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Another Voice: Outer Harbor land should be safeguarded for public use

By Joanne Kahn and Joan Bozer

As noted urbanist and Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Aaron Renn recently pointed out in writing about Buffalo, distinctiveness is the source of all competitive advantage. One of Buffalo’s most distinctive assets – indeed, perhaps our reason for being – is our unique position at the eastern end of Lake Erie, and our Great Lakes shoreline.

For a half decade now, 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor Inc. (21st CP) has engaged Buffalo in a fresh look at this asset. Frederick Law Olmsted, over a century ago, envisioned a great, water-rich Lake Erie park, to be the pinnacle of our great park system. Now we have the opportunity to create a park inspired by Olmsted’s vision on our post-industrial lakefront, on the public land between Times Beach and the NFTA terminals.

In advocating for this Outer Harbor Park, we have four primary objectives: 1) Public access to the waters of Lake Erie. 2) Creating a greenway from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie. 3) Completing Olmsted’s legacy and dedicating this park to him (the only public park in the country to do so). 4) Using and promoting sustainable practices.

With our urban core experiencing a burst of new construction, the best way to safeguard this land for public use for generations to come is for the State Legislature to designate it as parkland. The sooner this is done, the sooner our community can get started planning our Lake Erie park. For a county the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation ranks one of the unhealthiest in New York State (54th out of 62), adding recreational amenities is worth striving for. With urgency.

Proper parkland zoning of our Outer Harbor lands is also crucial. Currently, the draft Green Code proposes to allow up to 25 percent of parkland (classification D-OG) be built on. But to allow that much construction would devastate our large parks. 21st CP suggests a much lower limit, say 8 to 10 percent, with a sliding scale for smaller parks that may include community centers on a larger portion of land. And we should permit only nature park and recreation-related uses on our public Outer Harbor land, with water-related uses having priority.

While we appreciate Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s recent shift away from a development-heavy plan to a “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach to our Outer Harbor, genuine community engagement and transparency for this phase have been absent. Contrary to the spirit of “lighter, quicker, cheaper,” the ECHDC is planning to install permanent facilities – without a publicly vetted and formally adopted master plan, and with no environmental review, in an environmentally critical area.

Along with the community, we look forward to a public meeting to be informed what the ECHDC is proposing for this most valuable public resource.

Joanne Kahn and Joan Bozer are co-chairwomen of 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor Inc.