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Controversy over Outer Harbor tower should touch off community discussion

Critics are expressing concern about a proposal to build a 23-story apartment tower on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor. The concern is not unwarranted, but it’s also not a disqualifier.

This project deserves careful evaluation, understanding not only that the Outer Harbor is a sensitive environment that includes a significant amount of public space, but also that waterfront living is a normal human desire that should not be automatically rejected.

The project is the brainchild of Orchard Park businessman Gerald Buchheit, who owns the former Freezer Queen warehouse, a six-story building at 975 Fuhrmann Blvd., adjacent to the Small Boat Harbor. His plan is to demolish that structure and construct a 370,000-square-foot residential apartment building that will rise 320 feet and, for the first time, put permanent housing in the area.

Called the Apartments @ Queen City Landing, the development includes 197 luxury units of 600 to 1,400 square feet each, with balconies. About 60 percent of the units would be one-bedroom apartments, while the rest would have two bedrooms. Some at the top would be penthouse apartments. The project would provide a three-story parking ramp with 320 spaces.

Some of the objections are technical, having to do with zoning and other regulations, while others are aesthetic – Daniel Sack, vice president of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, believes a 23-story tower is undesirable for the location, for example. Some people, we suspect, simply want to limit all development along the Outer Harbor.

That may not be an inappropriate impulse, but it’s also not one that should be applied indiscriminately. It needs context, mainly in a better sense of what Buffalo residents want for the Outer Harbor. Should it all be kept pristine, or is there a useful way to combine nature with residential and commercial development?

Neither answer is automatically wrong, and Buchheit has made a proposal that, despite the height that has drawn criticism, could plausibly be a useful part of the city’s waterfront life.

Certainly, other cities have managed to combine waterfront development, including residences, with a respect for nature. It shouldn’t be assumed that Buffalo cannot also manage that balancing act.