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Park envisioned for outer harbor land; Second chance seen for NFTA site

Buffalo should have a grand waterfront park on its outer harbor, an advocacy group said Friday.

Public access needs to be maintained on land that has been eyed for various types of development, including housing, according to Citizens for a 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor.

The land in question, about 120 acres, is "too important for any of those uses," said Joanne Kahn, the group's coordinator, during a morning news conference near an existing trail off Fuhrmann Boulevard.

The advocacy group called on supporters to attend a public meeting in June that's part of a city brownfield planning effort for the outer harbor area.

The land is now controlled by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

Creating a large park at the site would make it part of a larger Niagara River Greenway system, the group said.

Calling the land "Buffalo's front yard," Elizabeth Nichols, who is also with the Western New York Sustainable Energy Association, said such a park would be a "connector."

Advocates, who dubbed this the community's "second chance" to make the right choice on how to use the land, want the park to follow the design principles of Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect who designed parks and parkways in Western New York.

The group also is calling for the park to include a "sustainable feature," which could mean powering the park's lights through a geothermal or solar energy source, said Marika Woods-Frankenstein, who is also with both the park group and the sustainable energy organization.

The proposal already has the support of Green Options Buffalo, The Great Lakes Experience, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and Citizens for Regional Transit, advocates said.

The group has met with NFTA officials and said it hopes to gather all interested agencies and groups to work in concert moving forward.

The NFTA has taken a step back from an earlier plan to sell the land and is looking at what "additional options might be available" for the various parcels the authority owns on the waterfront, according to C. Douglas Hartmayer, authority spokesman.

As authority officials have previously indicated, Hartmayer also said the NFTA is open to the possibility of another public agency, like the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., overseeing development of the land.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said he supports the group's proposal, adding he believes what's needed is an attractive waterfront and not another densely developed area.

"I think it's a great idea, and I think it's consistent with what the vision is for the outer harbor," Higgins said.

Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the city's Office of Strategic Planning, said the city has taken no position on the group's proposal.

The city currently is undertaking a planning process through what's been designated a state Brownfield Opportunity Area, and that's the venue where the discussion about this land should take place, Mehaffy said.

Mehaffy noted that aside from those who want parkland, others have expressed interest in building condos, while others have talked about commercial sites for logistics and distribution.