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Buffalo Avenue rejuvenation is returning to agenda

NIAGARA FALLS – The next planning phase aimed at rejuvenating the once-bustling corridor of heavy industry around Buffalo Avenue kicks off this week.

Potential projects such as traffic calming on the Robert Moses Parkway just off Interstate 190, the possible westward extension of the LaSalle Expressway and building new homes on vacant land east of the city’s water-treatment plant are some of the possibilities that have arisen in prior planning efforts for the area.

A public workshop to discuss ideas about residential development, commercial property redevelopment, roadway issues and other items will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the cafeteria of the Niagara Falls Community Education Center, 6040 Lindbergh Ave.

Members of the public will be asked to give input for the second phase of planning for what’s being called the “Niagara Opportunity” project, a phase that officials expect to wrap up next spring.

“We don’t want to leave the corridor to just market forces,” Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s acting director of economic development and longtime senior planner, said of the roughly 1,800-acre swath along the upper Niagara River and Buffalo Avenue between the North Grand Island Bridges to the east and 10th Street to the west.

“We’ve seen the decline in traditional heavy industry over the last 40-plus years,” DeSantis said. “That’s not likely to reverse itself in any meaningful way, and even in those industries that are stable and/or viable in terms of their continuing operations, they’re not likely to generate a lot of additional new employment.”

This is the second of a three-phase initiative to create what’s known as a state Brownfield Opportunity Area. Such a designation provides additional tax credits for development beyond what’s available in the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program.

LaBella Associates, headquartered in Rochester, is the lead consulting firm for this phase, as it was during the first one.

This phase of the initiative, which will cost more than $400,000, is being funded by New York’s Department of State. The city’s contribution to this portion of the project is an in-kind one involving staff participation.

Work on this initiative began about a decade ago when the city received about $461,000 from the state to do an inventory of brownfields in this corridor and around Highland Avenue.

Public meetings were held in 2007, and a report was issued in early 2008. In the report, officials issued four recommendations, including the extension of the LaSalle Expressway, slowing traffic on the eastern end of the Robert Moses, building homes near the North Grand Island Bridges and limiting where future heavy manufacturing may be located in the city.

DeSantis said he thinks that the community would prefer not to see the land in question necessarily changed in some dramatic fashion, although that may be what’s needed.

“We would like to see it changed such that the property becomes performing again in the way that it did economically 40 years ago,” DeSantis said.

Work included in this first phase will involve a review and audit of the first phase’s work, stakeholder interviews and a transportation analysis, as well as economic and market analyses.

While the first phase developed the four recommendations, the rest of planning will flesh out an action plan for each of them. The feasibility of each will be determined, and planners might select one, some or all to pursue, he said.

At the website for the project – niagaraopportunity.org – there is a collection of documents from previous planning efforts. Those who are unable to attend Tuesday’s session are able to provide comments through the project’s website.

DeSantis said the first phase did not involve as many of the larger property owners in the corridor, and there are plans to engage them on a greater level this time. The city also incorporated some of the ideas from the first phase of planning when it updated its zoning code in 2009, he said. That included altering some zoning on vacant parcels along Buffalo Avenue, no longer allowing heavy industry and permitting light industrial in its place.

This second phase is expected to include the release of reports in August and November, as well as additional public meetings in October and January.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com