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Another Voice: Thoughtful project is needed at historic Gates Circle

By Gretchen Cercone

Raise your hand if you remember back to 2008 when the original plans for Canalside were proposed. In case you don’t recall, at that time the plan was for Canalside to have over 200,000 square feet of retail space anchored by a massive three-story Bass Pro store. Now, raise your hand if you have visited Canalside this summer and thought to yourself, “I really wish I could go shopping down here.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that not many of you still have your hand up.

The fact is that some areas are built for shopping centers and large-scale retail development, while others simply are not. When one drives, walks or bikes down historic Delaware Avenue toward the Olmsted Parkway system that begins at Gates Circle, it is breathtaking. Mansions and large brick apartment buildings rise up on either side of the tree-lined avenue.

Brilliant designers conceived this area of the city over a century ago as a residential neighborhood that connected downtown Buffalo to the Olmsted parks and beyond. Now, a proposal is before the city to allow for an excessive amount of retail square footage to be dropped right in the middle of the historic beauty that is the Gates Circle neighborhood.

TM Montante, the developer proposing such changes, has put forth a petition to the city to rezone the entire parcel of land on Gates Circle to allow for commercial development on the site as a whole, including right up against the circle itself.

The company has proposed a grocery store and other retail space that will total approximately 130,000 square feet. When we consider that an average Walgreen or Rite Aid store is 15,000 square feet and then picture what could be the equivalent of nine such stores on this location, the reality of the scale of what has been proposed begins to sink in.

Some have said that those of us speaking publicly about this project are anti-development or just don’t want such a project in our backyards.

First, I would ask exactly who would want a grocery store or shopping center in his backyard? Second, and most importantly, I would challenge each of you to consider what could have happened at Canalside had the original development plan come to fruition.

Instead of green space and Adirondack chairs, we could have had shopping plazas and parking lots. Thoughtful development responds to the space around it. It is my sincere hope that our elected officials agree with those of us working to protect Gates Circle and act as stewards of this neighborhood so that it can be enjoyed as the residential area it was intended to be over the next century to come.

Gretchen Cercone is president of Lancaster/Melbourne Block Club and a member of the Gates Circle Advisory Committee.