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Pridgen Calls Out UB

Reverend Darius Pridgen (photo by Geoff Kelly)

Since last week, Ellicott District Councilman Darius Pridgen has publicly changed his tone toward the University at Buffalo regarding the proposed purchase of McCarley Gardens for $15 million by one of the myriad private charitable foundations that have multiplied around the public university. These entities control something in the neighborhood of three quarters of a billion dollars. At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, Pridgen said a letter was hand-delivered to UB president Satish Tripathi earlier that day, requesting his presence at a 1pm Council meeting on April 23.

UB has been unclear about its plans for the 15 acres of land under the HUD-subsidized, moderate-income apartment complex that is currently home to 150 families, according to Pridgen, and he said it was time for UB to state what they intend to do with the land, or find somewhere else to do it.

On Wednesday, the Buffalo News reported that UB spokesperson John Della Contrada said “a member of UB’s Community Relations Office will attend the meeting to discuss ways it can ‘continue to engage the community’”—which is a funny way of putting it if you were to ask the growing number of Fruit Belt residents who claim there’s been little or no community engagement in the three years since UB Foundation Finance Committee chairman Robert Denning (Perry’s Ice Cream president/CEO) and Reverend Michael Chapman (St. John Baptist Church pastor and president of Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corp.) signed an agreement for the sale back in April, 2010.

Chapman addressed the common council last week. Logic would dictate that perhaps Denning should also address the council, since he was the representative of the purchaser who actually put his John Hancock on the document—but in this game of three-card Monte it’s impossible to follow the sleight of hand displayed by the illusionists. Yes, the deal is with the UB Foundation. No, a member of the foundation will not speak before the council. And no, the contract that was signed by the two parties amid great media hoopla before dozens of cameras is not actually a public document, and Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens residents have no right to read at it.

Meanwhile, residents continue to organize and press for inclusion in a process they have thus far been skillfully cut out of. At Tuesday’s meeting, Pridgen’s resolution calling for the formation of a Fruit Belt Neighborhood Advisory Council unanimously passed. Any persons interested in helping to form the Fruit Belt Advisory Council are invited to come to an organizational meeting on Monday, April 22, at noon, in room 1417 of City Hall.

Another resolution, calling for a moratorium on construction in the Fruit Belt until residents gain access to the plans and meaningful representation in the planning process was tabled last week and remains in limbo.

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