A retired local attorney, whose legal practice focused on land use and environmental law, isn’t giving up on his efforts to derail Gerald Buchheit’s proposal to build a new 23-story apartment tower on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
Arthur J. Giacalone, a South Buffalo resident, fired off a letter by email to Buffalo Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Ball and Common Councilman Chris Scanlon, challenging the $60 million project on zoning, environmental and related legal issues. He’s trying to raise more questions about the approval process and the 20-acre property itself.
Buchheit, an Orchard Park businessman who has owned the property since 2007, has proposed demolishing the Freezer Queen building and putting up an apartment complex with 197 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, with balconies overlooking Lake Erie. The Apartments@Queen City Landing would include two restaurants, a bar, a three-story parking ramp, boat docks, tennis courts, and additional recreational features.
The concept has been met with a lot of enthusiasm from some members of the community, but strident opposition from Giacalone and preservationist Daniel Sack, who say the project is inappropriate for the site and also claim that city officials aren’t following proper procedures.
“I’m a concerned citizen that is raising issues relating to the environment and government actually complying with the laws on our books,” Giacalone said.
Specifically, contrary to assertions by Buchheit and attorney Marc Romanowski, Giacalone said the property at 975 and 1005 Fuhrmann Blvd. falls within the boundaries of the Buffalo Coastal Special Review District, and Planning Board officials now agree. That means, according to Giacalone, that the project would require a “restricted use permit” from the Buffalo Common Council, which also can set the maximum height of any such new building.
He also continues to assert – as he did early this week at a Planning Board meeting – that the property would have to be rezoned before the project could proceed. Romanowski, as well as Planning Department staff and the city clerk, say the property was already rezoned from heavy manufacturing to commercial in June 2008, when Buchheit sought approval for a prior project at the site. The city clerk even provided a signed certification of the rezoning.
However, Giacalone said the rezoning resolution required that Buchheit file a certified copy with the Erie County Clerk’s office and meet unspecified conditions set by the Planning Board. But Deputy County Clerk Michael Cecchini said the clerk’s office “does not maintain or require filing of any documents as it relates to the rezoning of properties.”
Finally, Giacalone suggested that the 370,000-square-foot project would have “significant adverse impacts” on the environment, affecting migratory birds and nearby natural habitats such as the Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach because of its close proximity. He said it could also harm land and water resources, as well as “visual” resources, and questioned potential effects on traffic, the character of the nearby neighborhood and community, and “land, water and human health,” citing an application to the state for a brownfield cleanup designation.
He also asked if the existing Freezer Queen building might be eligible for historic preservation, which would prevent demolition.
Buchheit rejected the claims. “Arthur is an obstructionist and that is what the problem is with Western New York. He objects to everything,” Buchheit said. “We are trying to put Western New York, especially Buffalo, back on the map, as it used to be … I’m extremely proud of my efforts to improve the Buffalo waterfront. It’s time for Buffalo to be that beautiful city, the Queen City of the Great Lakes.”
His proposal was reviewed in an initial public hearing by the Planning Board on Monday, with another public hearing on April 18. The Buffalo Preservation Board also will consider Buchheit’s demolition request on April 14, at 4 p.m., at City Hall, although no work can begin until the required environmental review process is completed and necessary approvals are in place.