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Richardson complex hearing held

With the planning phase complete, the Richardson Center Corp. is getting ready to take the next step in redeveloping the Richardson-Olmsted complex.

But first it must conduct an environmental review of the proposal.

To that end, the agency held a public hearing, which attracted about 80 people Thursday to the auditorium of the Burchfield Penney Arts Center.

"This is for the public to make comment on the master plan, on the general project plan," said Eva Hassett, a member of the board of the Richardson Center Corp.

Copies of the master plan, which took about a year to complete, are available online or in the Crane Library on Elmwood Avenue and the Central Library downtown. The Empire State Development Corp., the lead agency for the project, will accept written comments until Jan. 17.

If no one raises major objections to the master plan, the developers will be freed to move to designing the project, which may include an architecture center, visitors center and a boutique hotel.

"So the state will release the rest of the construction money, $56 million, for us to begin to implement the planning that we've done," Hassett said.

Plans call for various reuses of the historic H.H. Richardson Towers, which once housed Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and the grounds of the Richardson-Olmsted complex off Elmwood and Forest avenues.

"This is a project that is extremely important to the community, not just the neighbors, but the entire community," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, adding that the project will spur economic development.

Timothy A. Tielman, executive director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture, generally praised the master plan but took issue with adding an east-west access road, which he said would detract from the focus of the towers.

"It is not demonstrated in the [draft environmental impact statement], but merely asserted that using the public open space in the north quadrant will somehow help the rehabilitation of [the Richardson Olmsted complex]. That's quite a tradeoff that the public is being asked to do," Tielman said..

He said that 25 acres of open space could better be used for recreation purposes, particularly in a neighborhood that sorely needs such amenities.

Vincent Kuntz, a West Side resident and landscape designer, agreed.

"I can't think of that area or the areas that were the farms where the patients worked for therapeutic activity and produced some of their own support as undeveloped in the Olmsted and Richardson plan," Kuntz said.

Assuming that it was undeveloped and could be used for anything disregards part of that original plan, which should be considered," he added.

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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