Vague and abstract but a step in the right direction is how community leaders described a new set of goals unveiled Wednesday by the Horizons Waterfront Commission.
Encouraged by the emphasis on recreation and open space, some public-access advocates nevertheless are concerned that Horizons' first planning report leaves the door open to improper development.
"They've created a game plan, but there's so much vagueness to it," said Susan West, executive director of Buffalo Friends of Olmsted Parks.
Ms. West said the goals need to be more concrete, particularly as they relate to the need for more waterfront parks. She also thinks that the commission was wrong not to limit commercial development to "water-dependent" uses such as marinas.
Others see the goals as an indication of the commission's desire to strike a balance between public access and commercial development. The goals are considered a framework for the regional master plan that will ultimately come from the commission.
"I think it's flexible," said Charles Rosenow, president of the Buffalo Development Companies, a group of City Hall agencies. "The proof will be in the actual action plan."
Billed by Horizons as the first statement of its vision of the waterfront, the report stresses the importance of public access and goes so far as to say that job creation should be a secondary goal.
Rosenow said that the report does not preclude development and that Horizons is recommending a mixture of uses for the waterfront, from offices and stores to parks and marinas.
"You have to realize you're dealing with 90 miles of waterfront, and there will be a variety of uses on that waterfront," said Sharon West, deputy commissioner of planning for Erie County.
But Ms. West said she also recognizes the public's strong desire for access and thinks that Horizons responded to that desire.
Rae Rosen, chairwoman of Waterfront Alliance, a coalition of groups with an interest in the shoreline, said the report rightfully makes public access the No. 1 priority.
"What that says to me is that they're going to serve the needs of the public first," she said. "The framework is there, but I still want to see where the commission is going."
The report also recommends a greater emphasis on dealing with environmental concerns. It lists 49 hazardous-waste sites along the shoreline and says cleaning those sites should be a priority.
Without a cleanup, some of the region's largest parcels of vacant land would remain unusable. The report says 40 percent of the county's shoreline is currently vacant or underused.
Noting that Horizons is calling for a clean waterfront, a citizens group in Lackawanna wants to know why the report recommends against a proposed truck terminal but makes no mention of a tire-burning plant proposed for the former Bethlehem Steel site.
"We don't see the difference between a truck terminal along the waterfront in Buffalo and a tire-burning plant along the waterfront in Lackawanna," said Robert Hurd, president of Citizens for Lackawanna's Future.
Hurd, who expressed concern about Horizons' call for a centralized approach to locating new water-dependent industries, said Lackawanna could become a dumping ground for such businesses.
But new industry is exactly what some city officials want for Lackawanna, a community suffering from serious financial problems. For that reason, they were happy to see Horizons make room for industry.
"With all the pressure about public access," said Vincent Dziechciarz, Lackawanna's director of development, "I was glad to see economic development wasn't swept under the rug."
Kenneth Sherman, executive director of Citizens Alliance and a member of the Friends of the Buffalo River, said that the report is positive but that "it lacks a clear commitment to a set-back policy."