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Hearing airs plan for courthouse complex Traffic, parking, design are discussed

Traffic, parking and design for the planned $43 million City Courthouse and Police Headquarters on North Main Street were the focus of a public hearing held by the Planning Board this week.

Jeff Morrow, owner of the Book Corner -- two storefronts away from the planned complex -- was happy to hear the development wouldn't hinder deliveries at the back of his shop.

"I'm good with everything," he said. "It looks like a good plan."

Before the Niagara Falls Planning Board can consider site-plan approval, it must weigh the environmental effects the three-story, 130,000-square-foot building will have on its surroundings.

Wednesday night's public hearing was a required step in that process.

Other residents who spoke at the hourlong hearing were pleased when officials with Ciminelli Development Co. of Amherst, hired by the city to develop the project, promised that a public parking lot behind the complex will be open 24 hours a day for anyone to use.

City resident Kenneth Hamilton questioned the flow of traffic and whether there was a need for additional traffic signals.

Ciminelli representatives said a thorough traffic study was completed and is included in the large amount of paperwork the Planning Board will study as it considers the impact of the project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Mary Ann Rolland of Youngstown, who began a block club in the area surrounding the courthouse site, was interested in a topic that isn't necessarily part of the Planning Board's review but has been hotly debated for months: the facade.

The schematic design of the building has dramatically evolved. The initial proposal of a modern glass-fronted building with elements taken from the Niagara Power Project was rejected by the city administration, and instead the chosen facade will use traditional brick with an entrance that evokes the former Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge.

"We appreciate the change in design. I think it's much more suitable with the old Suspension Bridge area," Rolland said. "I'm a historic preservationist and there are a lot of yellow brick buildings all over the city. . . . It was in fashion at the turn of the 19th century."

Kirk Burzynski, director of development for Ciminelli, said he wasn't sure if the brick would actually be the yellow shown in architectural renderings displayed at the hearing.

"It's still being designed," he said.

Claudia Miller, president of the Main Street Business and Professional Association, had been critical of the new design but softened her recent opinions at the meeting.

"I just wanted to say that while I didn't choose this design I know the developers will make sure this is a building Main Street can be proud of," she said.

Laurie Davis, who heads the city's volunteer Courthouse Advisory Committee, attended the meeting to urge the Planning Board to do a thorough job in its environmental review, and do so "in a timely fashion."

The courthouse committee had been disappointed with several setbacks in the timeline of the project.

"We're not building the courthouse because we have money in the budget and nothing else to do," she said. "I hope that we don't lose sight of that focus that we're mandated to build this courthouse."

The state Office of Court Administration threatened over the past few years to withhold millions in state aid if the city did not address its current dilapidated courthouse in the Public Safety Building on Hyde Park Boulevard.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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