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Buffalo's Olmsted Park Conservancy has expressed support for new public design workshops for a Niagara River bridge and gateway entrance area but said it will continue a fight to preserve Front Park.

"We're waiting to see what 'gateway' means," said Lucy A. Cook, the conservancy's executive director.

"We think the park is a given, just as the plaza is a given. That's something we're going to be watching very closely, and we'll continue advocating for the preservation of the park."

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership, mediating disputes about Peace Bridge expansion plans for the past four months, last week announced its plans to hold a design workshop, or charette, this spring. The workshop plan drew support from governmental leaders and competing bridge planning groups.

Also included in the Partnership recommendations was a call for "rethinking" designs for a U.S. entry plaza and incorporating the "Front" designed by Frederick Law Olmsted into an expanded gateway area.

"Overall, realistically, it seems to be kind of a good way to go, and they did a responsible job of pulling together all the issues," the conservancy director said.

The group also questioned how much public participation will be allowed in the workshops, which now are being planned. Partnership officials have said they hope to have a good community cross-section to consider how to replace the bridge, and their own consultants will start Monday to consider plaza designs.

Partnership executive Patricia Rehak said the team would evaluate designs based on technical aspects, traffic circulation and the overall "welcoming experience."

Meanwhile, Buffalo's architectural designers have raised questions about the ability of the twin bridges planned by the Peace Bridge Authority to provide a "gateway" image.

Following an authority briefing during the first of a series of town meetings on the issue, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects issued a statement concluding that the twin span design is a "competing, jarring mismatch" to the historic Peace Bridge.

The group also called for solutions to customs booth understaffing and complained that the current design for a new American bridge plaza "appears to have been 'shoehorned' into the space available."

Th chapter earlier this month filed an objection with the Coast Guard, the lead federal agency for the bridge permit process, over an initial finding that twin-span construction would have no significant environmental impact.

Leaders of a shoreline residents group active during the last period of damaging high lake water in the 1980s, meanwhile, also have expressed concerns that five new support piers in the Niagara River could raise lake levels. Lake-level rises of up to six inches were attributed to the extra obstruction of barge wreckage pinned against a Peace Bridge abutment several years ago, David Rebmann of the South Shore Coalition said.

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