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Waterfront is key focus of master plan

Greater use of the waterfront, improved infrastructure and eradicating blighted housing areas were among the objectives in a 115-page master plan released to Common Council members Tuesday night.

"North Tonawanda has a proud, rich and diverse history and is full of well-established neighborhoods and an intact downtown core," the report summarized. "These assets must be protected and promoted."

A draft report was presented to a workshop meeting of the Council by Chuck Bell, the city's economic development coordinator, one of 14 members of a steering committee that put the plan together over the past year.

The Comprehensive Plan is expected to be ready for Council approval and adoption by the end of the year, Bell said. Two public hearings will be scheduled over the next month, and all environmental issues will be addressed, he added.

Mayor Lawrence V. Soos described the plan as "a road map to the future."

One of the goals is to make North Tonawanda distinct from neighboring communities, said Joe Fonzi, a waterfront engineer.

The plan, which was prepared by Bergmann Associates, a Rochester architectural, engineering and planning firm, is a comprehensive document full of maps, photographs, charts and exhaustive summary and analysis.

A key theme focuses on various "gateways" -- to the waterfront, the Erie Canal, the carousel, the botanical gardens and an industrial park of technology and light industry.

The framers envision a city that will:

* Enhance and protect its quiet neighborhoods.

* Promote its open space and recreation opportunities.

* Focus on redeveloping its abundant water resources.

* Plan for intelligent growth and revitalization.

* Remain a safe, walkable and accessible community.

* Retain its small-city historic character and culture.

A land use plan is intended to serve as the basis of future zoning revisions and reflect the long-term vision of the community.

The plan recognizes the city's wide range of housing styles, from small bungalows to stately Victorian homes. Several neighborhoods, however, are in bad shape and cry out for renovation or removal, the report states.

Webster Street in the downtown core was singled out for its "unique character and architectural heritage that should be preserved and restored."

Revitalizing Webster Street as a mix of commercial and residential "is critical to redefining the community's identity," the plan says.

North Tonawanda's greatest asset is the waterfront and its access to the Erie Canal and Niagara River, the report emphasizes.

"These two waterways shaped the city's industrial, social and economic past and today remain a primary driver of the local identity," the report notes.

The waterfront consists of three main areas: the River Road corridor from Gratwick Riverside Park south to downtown; all of Tonawanda Island; and areas bordering the downtown core along the river and the canal.

Short-term goals for the waterfront, over the next two years, include a a vigorous campaign promoting North Tonawanda as the present-day terminus of the Erie Canal.

"We have a terrific framework for the short-term and long-term future of North Tonawanda," Bell told Council members, "and believe it can be a valuable working document 15 to 20 years from now."


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