The first landmark document in the Horizons Waterfront Commission planning process for the future of Erie County's shoreline was released this week and will be voted on by the agency's board of commissioners July 18.
The document, a draft statement of "final goals and objectives," outlines the planners' vision of the future waterfront and will serve as the framework for this fall's action plan detailing specific projects, Executive Director Thomas D. Blanchard Jr. said.
Public hearings on the document are planned Tuesday, Wednesday and next Thursday.
The text of key sections of the report follows. Brackets indicate sections that are summarized rather than quoted in full:
In an introduction, the draft stresses the beauty of the waterfront but notes the abuses of decades of urbanization and industrialization and calls for more effort to clean up inactive hazardous-waste sites. The document also notes that "the need for more access to the waterfront for people has been heard clearly."
[While calling for improvements in all kinds of access to the waterfront, the document also cites the changing role of the waterfront in the local economy.]
The waterfront vision
"Clean, accessible, prosperous -- some simple concepts with profound meaning for today's citizens of Erie County and for their future generations. The message from the people has been made clear, and a conscious effort has followed to convey this message forward in a very simple and memorable form; the vision is of a clean, accessible and prosperous waterfront."
Goals and objectives:
"The establishment of a written expression of the goals of the waterfront plan provides a common basis for decision-making. A goals statement may be considered as a desired end state or condition that the plan will be designed to achieve. The development of an action plan without a goals statement would be like embarking on a journey without a destination. A clear understanding, consensus and expression of the desired destiny of the waterfront is therefore essential.
"Supplementing the goals statement are a series of related objective statements. The objectives describe the actions or conditions required to achieve the stated goals." "Further refinement of the goals and objectives upon completion of the waterfront master plan may take the form of policy statements. Like guideposts, the policy statements will aid in the evaluation of projects and proposals as the waterfront continues to evolve. Waterfront development policies can be embodied in local zoning ordinances and land use regulations." "Though developed by the Horizons Waterfront Commission, the goals and objectives are to be viewed as expressing a common vision for the waterfront."
Goal I: To provide a waterfront that gives significant enrichment to the quality of life.
Recognize public waterfront access as a high priority in all actions affecting the shoreline.
Unify the Erie County waterfront through consistent land use planning, development themes, public logos, site furniture and other similar planning and design programs.
Embrace and build upon each waterfront community center's heritage, diversity and attraction as a place for people to enjoy.
Recognize the need for private development along the waterfront that can help finance public improvements, provide diverse land uses that may be of interest to the general public (e.g., aquariums, retail) and are dependent or enhanced by a waterfront location.
Develop attractions that are capable of contributing to the economic base of the area and are sensitively planned and designed.
Maximize multiple uses of publicly held waterfront property for the direct benefit of and use by the public.
Develop additional waterfront recreation facilities -- from passive, quiet places to trails and bikeways, parks, ball fields, beaches and marinas.
Protect and interpret the presence and value of the county's archaeological and historical resources through a comprehensive program of sites and facilities.
Protect and improve the scenic and visual quality of the waterfront -- the bluffs and beaches, the woodlands and fields, and the positive elements of the built environment.
Capitalize on the benefits, beauties and recreational activities available during winter, spring, summer and fall.
Develop priorities for action to achieve improvements in both the short and long term.
Goal II: To rejuvenate the waterfront into a clean, inviting and healthy environment.
Recognize the critical importance of our environment in all public actions.
Encourage and facilitate the prompt cleanup of all inactive hazardous-waste sites that represet a threat to the public health or environment.
Identify priority areas for environmental cleanup to facilitate sound waterfront redevelopment.
Ensure that all land and water uses in the waterfront do not degrade air or water quality and are in full compliance with all quality standards.
Manage the resources of the waterfront to maintain and improve environmental quality; protect sensitive ecosystems, habitat and significant natural areas, and enhance public awareness of these important resources.
Recognize the powerful effects of natural processes upon the county waterfront and manage land and water uses to minimize damage to property and to protect natural features using the minimum amount of structural change to the land and waterscape.
Goal III: To achieve a prosperous waterfront that advances environmental quality and enriches the quality of life.
Facilitate economic development that contributes to the public investment necessary to achieve a clean and accessible waterfront.
Ensure proper siting of water-dependent and water-enhanced uses as priorities throughout the waterfront.
Provide ongoing and coordinated land use decision-making for the waterfront.
Provide for the continued growth and centralization of water-dependent industry.
Ensure availability of sufficient land space to support water-dependent uses.
Encourage appropriate development in areas currently served by available infrastructure and coordinate infrastructure improvements to targeted areas selected for high levels of use.
Encourage further development of area docks and ports as centers of commerce and industry.
Encourage appropriate design and development standards for all waterfront development, including public and private sector initiatives.
Develop coordinated system improvements for all transportation modes, including auto, rail, bus, bicycle, pedestrian and water-based transit, to increase mobility to and through the waterfront.
Interpretation of the goals and objectives
"While it is necessary to understand what the goals and objectives say, it is important to interpret what they do not say":
The waterfront's primary utility is not to create jobs, as job creation is a desirable but secondary effect of quality waterfront development.
The valuable waterfront resource is not to be squandered through use of non-water-dependent or non-water-enhanced activities such as land-based truck terminals, salvage yards or storage and warehousing facilities.
The waterfront is not to be developed into a tourist trap, but as a vital functioning place for county residents, with supporting activities for tourists.
The waterfront is not to be significantly paved with parking lots and roads, but to be developed in a sensitive manner, protecting green space and habitats.
The waterfront is not to become only a place for human activity, but also a place where wildlife and marine life can live and thrive.
The environmentally abused part of the waterfront is not to be written off as polluted and safe only for industrial and commercial uses, but is to be restored to a level of ecologic integrity.
The waterfront is not to become a place where man and machines only reign, but also a place where one can enjoy the simple elements of wind and water, peace and tranquility.
The private development is not to be exclusively used to limit the public's access to the waterfront.
Management of public property shall not exclude public access but shall advance the objective of an accessible waterfront.
Subregional application of goals and objectives
Northern Sector -- Town of Grand Island, City and Town of Tonawanda:
"In the City of Tonawanda, continued improvement of the existing waterfront recreation complex is vitally important at Niawanda Park, Veterans Park, Riverwalk and the city-owned property at the mouth of Ellicott Creek. Enhancement and protection of the scenic quality and archaeological resources along the river, in particular at its confluence with the Barge Canal, is needed. The potential additional development at the City of Tonawanda's municipal building complex needs to be carefully planned to enhance recreational opportunities and to improve the visual quality of the area.
"There are several significant inactive hazardous and radioactive waste sites in the northern sector that require remediation as top priorities. The transition of the waterfront properties into second (and third and fourth) generation uses will require careful planning for access opportunities and visual and environmental improvement.
"The significant fish habitat at the Strawberry Island-Motor Island shoals must be protected, as well as the wetlands near the Cherry Farm and Two-Mile Creek. The Niagara River ecosystem requires continued efforts to restore and maintain its ecologic integrity. The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement executed through the International Joint Commission provides guidance in that effort.
Central Sector -- City of Buffalo, City of Lackawanna
"The remediation and reuse of former industrial sites will provide the basis for the major land use opportunities in the Central Sector. The Buffalo River industrial and warehouse/grain elevator complex, the Bethlehem Steel site property and the NFTA property comprise the nucleus of this land bank. Additional public recreation facilities can be achieved at all of these locations. Transition should not be at the expense of viable, ongoing operation. The City of Buffalo is the logical choice for developing a core of waterfront attractions for use by county residents and tourists. Public development initiatives here can leverage additional benefits by attracting private investment that can support the tax base and fund needed additional public improvements.
"The industrial heritage of Western New York is focused in this subarea. Preservation of this heritage could be a powerful tool for the redevelopment of this transitioning core. Consolidation of the active industrial uses would free up additional lands for alternate uses while maintaining a nucleus of functioning industry. The Buffalo River, once the centerpiece of this industrial district, must be recognized as a resource of critical importance. The biologic integrity of the river must be restored. This must be a top priority objective.
"Transportation and other infrastructure improvements to facilitate access to the waterfront are of greatest concern -- and potential benefit in this sector. A cohesive infrastructure and access program needs to be developed to address this concern. The form of access must be designed to complement and enhance a waterfront setting. Pedestrian, bicycle, transit and light rail would be preferable to automobile traffic in this area, as appropriate. Improved linkage of downtown Buffalo, with its attractions and long history of public and private investment, is crucial.
"Economic and community development needs are strong in the Central Sector. The waterfront, while playing a role in development, must not be overutilized, thereby destroying much of its potential benefit.
"The existing park system needs to be restored to some earlier design concepts, improved and supplemented with additional recreation facilities. Incorporation of public access to the waterfront is of greatest concern in this highly utilized portion of the shoreline."
Southern Sector -- Towns of Hamburg, Evans and Brant
"Open space and recreation opportunities abound in this sector. Increasing public access to the waterfront is achievable here, recognizing that a program must be developed that respects private property rights yet achieves the needed waterfront access.
"The preservation of existing environmental quality is paramount in the Southern Sector (versus improvement in the Central and Northern sectors). Sensitive features of sand dunes; highly erodible shoreline segments throughout the corridor; large floodplain areas; significant fish and wildlife habitat at Seneca Shoals, Big Sister Creek and Eighteen Mile Creek; significant archaeological and geological sites, and major areas of undeveloped land and wooded property form the basis for an attractive and clean existing waterfront environment in the Southern Sector. Protection of this setting is a high priority.
"Several recreational opportunities exist, including (among others) the development of a hike/bike trail along the waterfront zone, the addition of public swimming beaches, construction of boat marinas and launches and expansion of passive parklands through both the expanded use of currently held public properties and through the acquisition and development of new facilities. All forms of recreation improvements in the South Towns will be of long-term benefit to the region."
Review of prior waterfront plans and studies:
[The subcommittee reviewed more than a dozen draft or final waterfront revitalization plans developed by area communities and agencies, finding conflicts between the plans and sometimes within the plans themselves. Many lacked statements of goals and offered no basis for comparison; rather than suggest rewording, the drafters identified six main areas of conflict for better evaluation of future projects.]
Natural habitat preservation versus human use:
"Resolution of these issues will continue to challenge county residents and leaders over many years to come. The use of land and water by people impacts natural habitat. For example, in the South Towns, there are hundreds of acres of woodlands in the waterfront zone. The protection of this natural feature will be challenged as the demand for housing, recreation and commercial development continues. Designation and protection of important habitat through acquisition and regulation will assist in addressing this conflict."
Public access versus private property rights:
"As public demand for the waterfront access increases, so too does the pressure on protection of private property rights. The inclusion of public access in development projects requires a delicate balancing of interests and impacts. The acquisition of property by the public for trails/bikeways, beaches and marinas, parks and open space must be carefully planned to minimize community/neighborhood impacts and disruption. Acquisition through 'friendly negotiation,' donation or bargain sale would be preferred to exercise of eminent domain."
Waste site cleanup versus no action:
"The cost of cleanup of hazardous-waste sites can exceed the underlying value of the property. In this situation, many sites will remain polluted. Strong public action and commitment will be required to resolve 'inertia' in cleanup of polluted properties."
Historical and cultural resource preservation versus neglect and loss of resource:
"Without intervention, many cultural resources will be lost. In an economic development sense, the preservation of a historic property may yield a lower return on investment than demolition and new construction. The net value of cultural resources to the community, however, can be great. The protection of important cultural resources will continue to require substantial public commitment."