Preservationists vs City over 184 West Utica Street

Vacant home caught in middle of the Elmwood Crossing project

Mike Baggerman
February 25, 2020 - 8:29 pm
184 West Utica Street. Also known as Ernest Franks House. February 25, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

184 West Utica Street. Also known as Ernest Franks House. February 25, 2020 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)


UPDATE:  Tim Tielman with the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, tells WBEN he received word Wednesday morning that the Brown administration was going to issue developer Nick Sinatra a permit for the demolition of the house. Tielman said he would take every court action available to stop it. 

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) A vacant house located at 184 West Utica Street was recommended by the Buffalo Preservation Board as a local landmark on Tuesday.

The recommendation came after a group of concerned local residents, led by Tim Tielman, applied for landmark status in an effort to stop Sinatra Real Estate and Ellicott Development from demolishing the home to build part of the Elmwood Crossing site.

The house sits between a private parking lot and a residential home. Its rough condition includes boarded up windows, a worn-down stoop, a roof that needs repairs, and a sign taped on the front door that said “No Trespassing. Rat Poison on Premises.”

Why, then, do the residents not want the building knocked down? They argue that it has a significant history to Buffalo.

“It was occupied by Rodney Taylor and his wife,” Tielman said.

Taylor lived there from 2004 to 2009. According to the Albright Knox Art Gallery, the Buffalo-born artist had works that were included in many prominent collections nationwide, including at Albright Knox. Taylor’s father was the first African-American x-ray technician at Roswell Park.

Taylor and his family ultimately sold the home and it was never properly maintained again.

The group also argued that because noted architect Albert Schallmo designed the home, it should be given landmark status. Schallmo was also the architect behind Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church that was constructed in 1923 and became the first city landmark in the City of Buffalo in 1977.

“People love the house,” Tielman said. “Now, with all this pedigree…it’s even more valuable.”

The home is owned by S&N Buffalo Properties, LLC, which owned both 180 and 184 West Utica since 2008.

But the developers of the long-planned Elmwood Crossing project, a mixed-use project at the former Women and Children’s Hospital site that encompasses parts of West Utica Street, believe that landmark status will cause their project to fail as currently planned. The current plan for the site is to feature 220 apartments, 27 condos, a hotel, grocery store, day care center, health and wellness center, plus other amenities on the eight-acre site.

Amy Nagy, representing Sinatra Real Estate and the property owner, argued that the house failed to meet the criteria for landmark status because it lacks a proper and unique character, there were no significant events that happened there, there is no important historical significance, lacks a significant person who has significantly contributed to local or national development, among other reasons.

Ultimately, members of the preservation board refuted arguments from the developer and unanimously recommended it to be considered a local landmark by the common council.

“The applicant has not met the criteria for the standards,” Nagy told reporters after the meeting. “It’s a legal process and there’s a standard. It must be followed. You have to show evidence. It can’t be based on conjecture and good narrative. That’s what we got a lot of.”

Nagy said the application by Tielman presented more narrative instead of facts and hopes that the common council will not approve it as a local landmark in its next meeting.

If the site is ultimately considered a landmark, developers will have to go back to the drawing table and come up with a new plan. Nagy said creating its development around 184 West Utica is not viable.

“We have to be able to meet certain criteria to make sure there’s certain access,” Nagy said. “Firetruck access, all those things. The way the lot is divided up, and when you look at where the current property line falls on 180 and 184 West Utica, it really digs into that and really impacts that project.”

Buffalo Common Councilman David Rivera attended Tuesday’s meeting and said he is in support of designating the house as a landmark after hearing its history.

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