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Planning Board approves 23-story apartment tower for Outer Harbor

After weeks of public hearings and debate, the Buffalo Planning Board late Tuesday evening gave the green light to a proposal to build a 23-story apartment tower on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.

The surprise 5-1 vote, coming at the very end of a marathon four-hour meeting with over two dozen projects, marks a major step forward for Gerald Buchheit’s $60 million Apartments @ Queen City Landing plan.

The project still needs a final approval on a height restriction from the Common Council on June 7.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised that the city has confidence in our project and can move ahead,” Buchheit said after the vote. “It’s moving in the right direction.”

If the Council puts its own stamp on the project next week, Buchheit said he hopes to put “a shovel in the ground as soon as possible,” and still aims to finish construction by the end of 2017.

The Orchard Park businessman, who has owned the 20-acre peninsula at 975 Fuhrmann Blvd. for over eight years, wants to demolish the vacant six-story former Freezer Queen building and put up a 274,000-square-foot glass and metal tower, with 197 one- and two-bedroom apartments, each with a balcony. The building would feature two restaurants and a bar, an “infinity” pool, and a fitness and wellness center, as well as boat docks and walking trails. Plans also include a three-story ramp for 300 cars, with rooftop tennis courts, a patio, and other recreational space.

The new project would be the largest residential tower in the city, and one of the largest new buildings in Buffalo in recent years. It would dominate the Lake Erie landscape, but would occupy one of the few parcels along the city’s Outer Harbor that is in private hands, along with the former Terminals A and B buildings next door. To the south lies the Small Boat Harbor, while Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. owns 450 acres to the north.

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“We think it’s an opportunity to do something grand along the site,” said Buchheit attorney Marc Romanowski. “There’s pent-up demand for this kind of unit.”

Over the course of prior meetings, the proposal faced vocal opposition from a handful of opponents, who cited legal, historic preservation, environmental and other concerns in seeking to derail the project over the past couple of months. Critics objected to the height of the building, which they said didn’t fit on the Outer Harbor, and warned that it would pose a risk to migratory birds. They also questioned the zoning, asked if it would generate too much traffic and noise in that area, and said it wasn’t in keeping with what the public wanted. And they cautioned that the demolition and subsequent construction – including digging down to the bedrock – could dredge up pollution that had been buried or absorbed in the ground over decades of former industrial use.

Romanowski sought to address all the arguments and to document responses, researching the building’s history – “it’s a giant refrigerator” – while calling upon environmental and avian experts to counter objections.