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Another Voice: Outer Harbor tower didn’t follow proper review process

By Lynda Schneekloth

The Buffalo News has editorially supported the proposed Queen City Landing 23-story apartment tower on the Outer Harbor. The editorial stated that the project “went through the city planning process and the Common Council as required and received good support.”

What they neglected to say is that the two lawsuits being brought against the Planning Board, the Common Council and Queen City Landing are based precisely on the condition that the legally required planning process was not followed by the city.

The State Environmental Quality Review (SEQRA) process is designed to understand how a project impacts the environment. It is less about the project itself, but asks how it will affect the surrounding area and assets. A lead agency is to determine whether or not a project is a “Type I” and should receive a “positive declaration.”

This determination requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) to initiate the research and review needed to determine impacts and to consider alternatives. The city issued a “negative declaration” on the proposed tower, avoiding the entire EIS process. To decide that a 23-story tower would have no impact was irresponsible. It sits at the edge the largest body of fresh water on earth, on a flood plain, on potentially unstable fill, on a major North American flyway and between two nature preserves: Tifft and Times Beach.

It is a completely different use from the surrounding area and does not meet with the standards of either the old zoning code or the proposed new Green Code. It is not part of a publicly vetted master plan and will demolish a national historic register-eligible building.

The “Article 78” lawsuits that were filed by four knowledgable petitioners and by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper argue that the SEQRA law has been violated because the city failed to take a hard look at such impacts, as required by law.

Citizens have the right to know and the city the requirement to know what the risks are and determine if they can be ameliorated. The public has invested over $100 million in and around the Outer Harbor. Violating SEQRA sets a dangerous precedent for future land use planning in our city. Next time you may think a project unsuitable or damaging to the surrounding area, you’ll have no credible course of action because the negative declaration precedent has been set.

Too bad the Buffalo News editorial board couldn’t articulate the real objective of the lawsuits nor support the requirement for accurate and detailed information about this unprecedented action that will, all agree, have a huge impact on the future of our Lake Erie shoreline.

Lynda Schneekloth is advocacy chair of the Western New York Environmental Alliance.

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