BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – For months, there’s been controversy over what to do with the Great Northern Grain Elevator, which partially collapsed during the winter.
The decision on whether to demolish the building may be made by the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division Fourth Department in Rochester.
On Wednesday, arguments in the courtroom centered around what the City of Buffalo’s Department of Permit and Inspections did in the days after the collapse.
Since partially collapsing in December, there have been no major reports of additional damage or safety issues at the Great Northern Grain Elevator. Instead, there have been rallies and strong debate on whether the building should be torn down.
Earlier this year, New York State Supreme Court Judge Emilio Colaiacovo ordered that the grain elevator be torn down, but preservationists blocked the decision.
Debate on what to do next has now entered the state’s appellate division with the actions of the former commissioner of Buffalo’s Permit and Inspections James Comerford under the microscope.
“The fact is that the commissioner determined it was an imminent threat only based upon listening to ADM’s experts, and his own staff,” said Richard Lippes, an attorney for the Campaign for Greater Buffalo.
“Isn’t he entitled to do that at that point?” asked Judge Erin Peradotto.
“Well, he based his decision on wrong facts,” Lippes said, “He indicated in his testimony that he doesn’t consider solutions that that’s not his job.”
“I’m not so sure all of that is required when you’ve got an immediate threat situation, so that’s how it was presented to the commissioner,” Judge Peradotto responded.
Preservationists have argued that the demolition permit was issued too quickly and that an independent review of the grain elevator should be done. Attorneys for the city say its Department of Permit and Inspections did nothing wrong.
“The commissioner made his determination based on what was in front of him at the time that he made his determination at that time the preservation board, I beg your pardon, the coalition had not submitted anything to the commissioner,” said David Lee, an attorney for the City of Buffalo.
Preservationists want the lower court’s decision approving demolition to be reversed. ADM, the company that owns the building and the city want that decision to be affirmed.
“The standard is what did the commissioner have in front of him? Did he go through a thorough enough process to have a rational basis?” said Ed Markarian, an attorney for ADM.
It will be up to the appellate court to decide whether Comerford was rational or arbitrary in issuing a demolition permit. Legal experts say it could be months before we get a decision. This case could wind up going to the New York State Supreme Court.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.