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Revised Outer Harbor plan praised by those who objected to first version

The slimmed-down blueprint for the Outer Harbor received a positive reception Wednesday from those who criticized the initial plan.

The plan, publicly released by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., is considerably scaled back from one introduced last year. The earlier plan drew sharp rebukes from Rep. Brian Higgins, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, members of the Buffalo Common Council, environmentalists and others who objected to housing clusters and other development and wanted more open space.

“I think the plan shows ECHDC has listened to the community, and the community’s desire for more public access,” Higgins said. “That’s what’s making the Buffalo waterfront as popular as it is. The residential and community development focused on Terminals A and B and the Freezer Queen is also a very positive development.”

Ryan also looked at the new plan positively. “It’s a clear victory for the public,” he said. “As we saw with Bass Pro and the last plan for the Outer Harbor, the public didn’t want big box retailers on the Inner Harbor, and they didn’t want surface parking lots or condo complexes on the Outer Harbor. They wanted amenities and access to the waterfront.”

But Ryan also expressed disappointment that many of the public amenities in the earlier plan disappeared in the current one.

“We’d love to have those returned,” Ryan said.

The Western New York Environmental Alliance also expressed its approval.

“I think it’s great,” said Lynda Schneekloth, the group’s advocacy chair. “I feel Erie Canal Harbor has listened to the fact that there are many different voices in the community, and we need more time to have this discussion about the Outer Harbor’s future.”

Schneekloth said the group also supports putting development on the southern end of the site, in the vacant port terminals.

“We’ve always thought that was exactly where development should happen,” she said.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper also showed its support.

“Based on the information presented in” Wednesday’s Buffalo News “article, early indications are that ECHDC has listened to the community and is taking steps to integrate community values and priorities into this updated plan,” said Jill Jedlicka, the group’s executive director. “This is a win for Western New York, our water, and our continued economic revitalization.”

Higgins and Ryan expressed an urgency to develop public amenities on a 15-acre parcel that the New York Power Authority will soon transfer to the waterfront agency. It’s also the site where the Queen City Bike Ferry transported more than 50,000 people last summer.

The land could be developed for housing under the draft Green Code, which would update city zoning codes. Erie Canal Harbor and Brown administration officials said they would like to see development occur there at a future date, but said that could be years away.

“It’s been called a nautical junkyard, and the site is too important to ignore,” Higgins said. “A ferry landing area is under construction. Why spend money to do that? Because it’s popular. We should want to improve that property right away.”

Higgins favors a “park-like setting, with concessions, rental bikes and other amenities.”

So does Ryan.

“Last year, we had 50,000 people taking the ferry and landing at the NYPA property, which isn’t in the best repair and offers no amenities. So we fully expect that by next summer to make that more of a public property, with increased access and greater public amenities on that property,” Ryan said.