The state today authorized formation of the Horizons Waterfront Commission, the final step in creating a regional planning board to oversee development of Erie County's waterfront.
In voting for the Horizons Commission, the state Urban Development Corp. cleared the way for the county and its lakefront towns and cities to begin the process of appointing commission members. The vote is expected to free $250,000 in state money for commission planning and staffing.
Horizons will be headed by a 15-member board and operate as a subsidiary of the UDC, the state's economic development agency. The commission was approved unanimously by the UDC board of directors during its monthly meeting in New York City.
"This is the type of project in which you would expect state involvement because of its magnitude," said Vincent Tese, chairman and chief executive officer of the UDC.
Once the commission is formed, the group will prepare a regional master plan for the waterfront, the first step in coordinating the various projects proposed by local governments and authorities.
The commission, as a UDC subsidiary, will have broad powers, including authority over condemnation and zoning. It also will receive state and federal aid and, in some cases, serve as the developer of last resort.
Today's vote ends eight months of debate over the pros and cons of forming a separate commission to oversee waterfront development.
The result was an intermunicipal agreement among the county, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and seven of the county's towns and cities. Grand Island was the only waterfront municipality to reject the commission.
A formal signing ceremony is scheduled for Thursday in Buffalo. Tese, County Executive Gorski, Mayor Griffin and several other local officials are expected to attend.
Once the agreement is signed, the county will begin the appointment process.
"This is going to be a complicated, sensitive job," said Tese.
He said Gov. Cuomo has not decided whom to appoint but indicated he will look for "people with tenacity and with vision, peoSee Plan
ple who can get the job done."
Richard Tobe, Erie County's commissioner of environment and planning, said the county has received several recommendations for appointments. He said the 15-member board should be in place by the third week of October.
Under the agreement, seven members will be selected by Gorski, three by Griffin, two by Cuomo and one each by the NFTA, the County Legislature and the Common Council.
To ensure geographic balance, Gorski has promised to pick at least one representative from both Buffalo and Lackawanna and one each from waterfront communities south and north of Buffalo.
"We clearly have to see that the commission is geographically balanced and ethnically balanced," said Tobe.
The board's appointees are considered by many officials to be the key ingredient in making the commission responsive to the community.
Tobe would not comment on the specific names being submitted for consideration. However, he said the result will be a commission with interests ranging from recreation to business.
"We hope to work with them to insure a balanced commission," said Tobe.
Once the commission is formed, it will begin hiring staff, including an executive director.
Tobe said his department is currently drafting a job description that will be reviewed by the commission. He said the board will most likely conduct a nationwide search for someone with extensive waterfront experience.
Tobe said the commission could have a director on board by sometime in January, at which time it could begin the search for a consultant. The consultant would develop a regional master plan.
Tobe said the consultant would be hired by next year and complete the plan in nine months to a year.
In the past, critics of Horizons such as Buffalo Common Council Member Eugene M. Fahey have charged that commissions like Horizons are "undemocratic" and tend to be dominated by "bankers, developers and bureaucrats."
Fahey supports the concept of regional planning but said Horizons goes too far. He wants each municipality to have veto power, and he wants elected officials to serve on the board. Under Gorski's plan, only non-elected officials could serve as voting members of the commission.
To ease the concerns of town and city officials, the county added language that asks each municipality to support and implement the master plan, but only "to the extent they deem appropriate."