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D ESPITE ITS STATUS as the agency with the lead role in developing this region's waterfront, it is reassuring to see that the Horizons Waterfront Commission appears amenable to a better idea when it comes to developing the valuable Outer Harbor site.

The plan put forth by a Buffalo Common Council committee calling for a large park on the Outer Harbor is most in keeping with the community consensus that lands nearest the waterfront be reserved for public uses.

That principle also underlies most of the plan unveiled last week by Horizons, with the notable exception of the Outer Harbor area. There, the regional panel raised the possibility of housing and commercial areas close to the water's edge, with only a narrow buffer of green space.

The committee plan, which is expected to gain Council approval and amend a version put forth by Mayor Griffin, calls for a 90-acre park on the site where Horizons and the mayor both see at residential and commercial development close to the shore. The Council plan, pushed most strenuously by members Brian Higgins and Eugene Fahey, puts the focus where it should be.

One consideration underlying proposals for commercial or housing development on the site is the need to generate dollars to pay for the entire waterfront effort. But when talking about such a key parcel, strategically located and one of the last large undeveloped areas, sacrificing the overriding thrust of the waterfront plan to bring in a few bucks would be short-sighted.

There is ample room for housing and other development further inland. It would still be close enough to the waterfront to provide a mass of residents -- taxpayers and shoppers -- but far enough away not to hamper the region's ability to take advantage of this one-time opportunity to properly develop the shoreline for public use.

Fortunately, both Horizons chairman Edward Cosgrove and Higgins are talking cooperation, not confrontation, in resolving this difference.

Horizons, of course, has no veto power over how the city develops the land within its borders. Its clout -- in addition to having the ear of the state, which will be a key funding source -- comes from the consensus it can pull together for its ideas.

There already is a consensus in the community demanding public access as the highest priority. Yielding to that demand in this case will not undercut the regional board's authority. Rather, it will be a recognition that jibes with what is already the overriding theme of the Horizons plan -- public access.

When the Buffalo legislative and administrative branches have finalized the city's waterfront plan -- presumably with the park incorporated -- the Horizons panel should follow up on Cosgrove's promise to remain responsive to ideas that improve upon the regional panel's efforts. Higgins and Fahey have one.

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