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Canal planners hear opinions Residents get chance to voice some concerns about the development of city's historic site

Local residents gave the developers of Erie Canal Harbor an earful during a hearing on the project Wednesday in Waterfront School.

About 100 people showed up for the public meeting by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. The purpose of the meeting was to solicit comments for a draft scoping report, which is a preliminary document that will examine the full breadth of project issues, including its potential social, economic and environmental impacts.

Before residents were given the floor, Paul Tronolone, senior project manager for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., said that, while the aspects of the proposed 21-acre Canal Side project will include the development of retail, office and residential spaces, the objective for the initial 12 acres is to follow the original blueprint of the canal area.

"We're focused on integrating [with] what already exists," Tronolone said. "We're relying on precedent. We're relying on the past."

But some attending Wednesday's hearing disputed that claim.

Preservationist Timothy Tielman, before the hearing, insisted that developers are going back on their word and placing big-scale commercial development along the central wharf, which is the heart of the canal district.

"The final draft [environmental impact statement] was in 2005. It had building standards, it said where the roads should go and where the canal should go, and they're ignoring all of that and it's not necessary," Tielman said.

Richard Berger, an attorney for the Campaign for Buffalo, who formerly represented the Preservation Coalition in its bid to maintain the historic integrity of the site, said the canal harbor is one of the Top 10 most historic sites in the country.

"This small, little place has a place in American history that is extraordinarily important," Berger said. "The reason the developers were entrusted with this property is because their mission was to create a historic district and one that people from all over the world would come to see."

John McKendry, who said he owns property in the nearby Cobblestone District, raised concerns about the adverse impact of the proposed commercial development.

"It may turn out to be a retail barn, and the Bass Pro store seems to be the center of the retail, from what I've seen," McKendry said.

Sarah Reid also expressed concerns about maintaining the historical integrity of the site.

"I noticed that a lot of the parts of the plan, like the cascading waterfalls and the locks and stuff, were not in this area. They [existed] along the canal, but they weren't specifically in this district, and it seems like we're building up the land to allow these things to be there," Reid said.

Daniel Leonard said he is concerned about Bass Pro being so far away from other retail development at the site.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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