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Future of Highland Avenue to be discussed today Public meeting at 5 p.m. will focus on cleanup of old industrial sites in Falls' North End

City residents will have the chance to speak out today about what they would like to see for the future of the Highland Avenue community as government agencies try to clean up old industrial sites and breathe new life into vacant properties.

A team developing a study to create a state Brownfield Opportunity Area in the neighborhoods surrounding Highland Avenue will hold its third public meeting at 5 p.m. in the Doris W. Jones Community Resource Building, 3001 Ninth St.

The public meeting is part of a series of open houses designed to help shape a plan for addressing brownfields -- typically vacant and contaminated industrial sites -- in a 560-acre area of the city's North End.

"This is the really critical moment and critical period," said Henry Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo. "We've been working with the neighborhood and the community very closely over this period, and in particular, we've been able to get some very significant input from the neighborhood in terms of the things that they want to see happen."

The team is developing an in-depth analysis of the area and a plan to revitalize its neighborhoods. It is funded through a $375,000 Brownfield Opportunity Area grant the city qualified for in 2004.

The Rev. William T. Spencer, chairman of the Highland Community Revitalization Committee, said community leaders have been focused for two decades on getting former industrial sites in the North End cleaned up.

"The Highland area, this is the main corridor for the African American community. This used to be a very industrial area," Spencer said. "Those companies have closed down and moved, and they left this area contaminated. So here again, we've been trying to get this area cleaned up and hopefully get some industry back in here."

Spencer said several recent developments -- including the planned reopening and expansion of the Globe Metals plant -- have given community leaders hope that the neighborhood is on its way up.

Part of the Highland study includes developing ways to connect community members to redevelopment opportunities, Taylor said.

The 18-month program included a six-week mini-course to teach residents about brownfields.

The team -- which includes several consulting firms, including Urban Strategies of Toronto -- expects to complete and submit the study to the state early next year.

"It's not just a brownfield remediation project," Taylor said. "But it's a brownfield remediation project that will be used to spark the regeneration of the entire community, and that's why this open house is so important."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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