By Maureen A. Harding
These facts on the Buffalo Outer Harbor development proposals are readily available to the public in various thoroughly prepared studies. They comply with the City of Buffalo’s proposed Green Code. Therefore, the preferred alternatives for the Outer Harbor are wholly defensible.
The housing vacancy rate is a function of the fraction of existing homes out of the total available that are not occupied. The most recent American Community Survey census data for 2013 states the rental vacancy rate for Buffalo is a very healthy 5.4 percent and the homeowner vacancy rate is 0.6 percent. A whopping 64 percent of the housing in Buffalo was built before 1939. Therefore, there is a shortage of available housing stock.
So, where do future workers live? Is it our intention to add yet another commuting burden to the anticipated 3,000-plus who will need to access regional job clusters, e.g., Medical Campus or SolarCity? Indisputably, people living near where they work rely more on local transit, bikes and walking and less on cars. Infill development inarguably contains sprawl, not induces it.
Sustainable development calls for reducing our regional vehicle miles traveled index. Therefore, you cannot simultaneously plead for better air in the City of Buffalo near the Peace Bridge while opposing housing on the Outer Harbor.
In terms of recreational needs, the City of Buffalo has more than 1,816 acres of parkland. Erie County has an additional 40 acres within the city limits. The ratio of parkland per 1,000 city residents is 7.1 acres, which is average for cities of high density.
Buffalo is within that range recommended by the National Recreation Park Association yellow book: 6.25 to 10.5 acres of open space per 1,000 population. In fact, the city has more ball diamonds, more park playgrounds, more golf courses, more park units, more swimming pools and more tennis courts per capita than most cities in the United States.
There is no shortage regionally. Erie County owns and operates nearly 11,000 acres of parkland on 38 sites throughout the county. We have Letchworth and Allegany state parks. The Niagara Gorge has 16 miles of trails. Niagara Falls State Park is more than 400 acres. Niagara River Greenway has 35 miles of shoreline. Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge encompasses nearly 11,000 acres.
Here’s the rub. You have to drive to the Outer Harbor to get there. Recreational activity is generally limited to weekends and weekday evenings during the summer. Therefore, this is neither economically viable nor environmentally sustainable for the long term.
Considerations for the public benefit are well-documented in the due diligence. Therefore, public opinion does not carry the day in the plea for more recreation and open space.
Maureen A. Harding, AICP, of North Tonawanda, is a professional urban and regional planner.