Contention, confusion shroud McCarley Gardens development

Controversial plan lacks clarity, communication and concern for residents

On May 7, 2014

The proposed plan between UB and the St. John Baptist Church for the university to purchase and redevelop low-income housing complex McCarley Gardens has been met with community ire.

Where controversy lacks, however, misinformation and lack of communication overshadow the proposed deal.

As The Spectrum reported Monday, McCarley Gardens has been the site of plans for the next phase of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) expansion. St. John Baptist is the current owner of the low-income housing complex and has expressed a desire to sell it to UB. The complex lies directly across from the rapidly expanding BNMC, piquing the university's interest as a partner in the expansion of the campus.

With a population of more than 400, the redevelopment would mean the displacement of a tightly knit community in the heart of Buffalo - a community that largely wishes to see its home maintained.

Regardless of the church's desire to sell, the destruction of a community and displacement of residents is not a project a public university should involve itself with in the name of "urban development" and university advancement. More actively seeking methods to preserve a community already beleaguered by potential threats of gentrification sparked by the BNMC, of which UB is an integral member, is a far more laudable goal.

Controversy waged at the potential McCarley Gardens purchase is not new. For several years, it has been the focus of reports by The Buffalo News and Artvoice and garnered academic inquiry. Claims of community degradation and lack of inclusiveness predominated.

Despite the debate, the redevelopment of McCarley Gardens by UB remains "on the table," according to Michael J. Pietkiewicz, the assistant vice president for government and community relations at UB. Pietkiewicz assured The Spectrum in an interview Tuesday the deal on McCarley Gardens was not "off the table," refuting a statement made by Matthew Enstice, the CEO of BNMC, during an interview with The Spectrum April 10.

Enstice retracted the claim that the plan was "off the table" in an interview Tuesday. "The deal is not off the table ... [but] as far as I'm concerned nothing is happening right now," Enstice said. "That is UB's deal."

The backpedaling on UB's McCarley Gardens purchase came as a surprise to Lorraine Chambley, the McCarley Gardens tenant association president.

"Now I'm getting mixed reviews, I don't know what's going on right now; apparently nobody really knows except for the powers that be," Chambley told The Spectrum Tuesday. "I would like them to stop. We have no problem with change ... we just want to keep what we have intact. We want to maintain our community the way we have it. That's all we ever wanted."

In place of community indignation over the visible, overt dealings to purchase and redevelop the low-income housing complex, confusion and misinformation seem to have taken hold. Chambley applauded several efforts by UB in becoming more responsive to community concerns recently.

But this new trend toward misinformation and lack of clarity is troubling for residents and community members who wish to see the complex and community it houses preserved.

The BNMC and UB's growing role with the initiative presents an unprecedented opportunity for Buffalo and the university. The growing medical corridor could provide inestimable benefits if it comes together as planned.

This effort, though, this promise of future benefits, should not come at the cost of people's homes. It should not, and need not, cost the connections hundreds have formed and continue to nurture and benefit from.

UB must either commit itself to concertedly - and clearly - protect the McCarley Gardens community or be transparent in its intentions.

Retracted statements and backpedaling are costing this institution legitimacy it can scarcely afford to lose.



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