How much open space should be on the outer harbor, and where?
If mid-rise apartments or an amphitheater were to be built, where should it go?
What about increased automobile access, and protecting wildlife corridors?
Proposals for how to use the waterfront – and different ways the various uses could be configured – were rated Wednesday by the public in back-to-back planning sessions at WNED Studios that drew about 340 people. The community gatherings were part of an expedited review process initiated by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., the state agency overseeing efforts to redevelop the city’s waterfront.
The decision-making process, led by Perkins + Will, a San Francisco-based planning organization, is focusing on the 160 acres of industrial land along Lake Erie, and how it is to be integrated into the larger 350-acre tract that includes the newly designated Buffalo Harbor State Park. The waterfront agency took ownership of the land in February.
“There’s more than one right answer for the outer harbor, and it’s up to the public, after being informed about the trade-offs between the different choices, to select what’s best for Buffalo,” said Kevin Hansen, director of real estate development for Empire State Development, the waterfront agency’s parent organization.
“We’re showing three ways to package the ideas for the waterfront, and in the end we will see what people prefer,” said Karen Alschuler, Perkins + Will’s global leader for urban design.
People attending the event at WNED on Wednesday evening said they preferred things such as walking access, boating friendliness and protection of the environment.
Judy Weidemann, a retiree from East Aurora, said that she is “very interested in the environment” and in that aspect of the harbor plans.
“Generally, it’s important for our future, and the future of the planet,” said Weidemann, a member of the League of Women Voters.
Boating ease and accessibility were on the minds of others at the event.
Mike Dates, of Hamburg, a powerboater, who was looking over the plans with his wife, Mary Ann, said he was hoping to see “places for us to bring friends on our boat.”
His wife wants to see better signage throughout the waterfront area.
Freida Joyce, a resident of the city’s Ellicott District, said she would like to see lots of shops and even a football stadium in the plans.
“I’m seeing a lot of things that are seasonal,” she said of the plans.
Joyce said she likes to walk and would probably walk along the waterfront there. She also would like shopping outlets.
“I’d like to see little shops,” Joyce said.
Meanwhile, Jessica Rubino, a college student who lives in the Elmwood Village and attends Penn State University, said that the chance to see the plans was “really cool.”
She and her friends “always do go down to the waterfront,” said Rubino, who is a kayaker, and also enjoys outings to Canalside and the Hatch.
Jill Jedlicka, executive director of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper group, said that the plans included elements the group wanted to see as part of the designs.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, from what we’ve seen,” Jedlicka said during the WNED session.
No decisions were made Wednesday, but a “preferred plan” is to be developed in early September, with a final plan expected later in the month.
The proposals – eight categories packaged with a different emphasis into three groupings – were shaped in July by public input collected from more than 600 people at three public forums.
The most popular uses identified for the outer harbor at the forums were paths and trails; leaving the lawn and meadows as open space; bike trails; and developing a waterfront promenade.
The least popular choices included office space, increased auto access and high-rise apartments or condos. The eight categories reconfigured into each of the three alternative plans Wednesday were open space, ecology and resiliency, health and recreation, land use, waterfront culture, human comfort, views, and access and mobility.
They reflected the ideas of professional planners, ecologists, landscape engineers and architects, but the final outcome is likely to be different, Alschuler said.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that any one of these will be the preferred plan. It will be influenced by what they hear tonight, but there will be a hybrid, with many of the characteristics of these and probably some new ideas from tonight.”
The final proposal will include some “action plans” to activate the outer harbor in a quick manner, Alschuler said.
Criteria established by the nine-member Waterfront Development Advisory Committee selected by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown also will carry weight.
For instance, even if the public does not place a lot of value in housing, there is no guarantee it won’t be part of the final plan, Alschuler said.
“We have criteria from our client, and we want to respect those. This needs to be a plan that is real, and can happen and have some self-supporting component in it,” she said.
Alschuler said that so far, the public’s demand for open space is most pronounced.
“Everyone has said it has to be a public waterfront,” she said.
SCAPE, a landscape architectural firm that designed the streetscape for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, is overseeing the effort to study and gauge public interest in preserving the environment, including wildlife corridors that could be adversely effected.
Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, applauded the speeded-up timetable aimed at producing a final plan next month.
“I think its an expedited process that’s driven by community frustration and not the political calendar. It’s borne out by master plans that take way too long, and land-use recommendations that are underwhelming,” Higgins said.
Higgins, who has led the charge to get a bridge built that would replace the Skyway and connect the inner and outer harbors, believes a bridge must be incorporated into the decision-making.
“You can’t recommend specific land uses without taking into consideration the status of the new bridge. If you’re not looking at it now, your land use is flawed,” he said.
Input on the waterfront can still be made by visiting www.eriecanalharbor.com.
News Staff Reporter Charity Vogel contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org