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Judge’s ruling clears way for 23-story Queen City Landing project

A state Supreme Court justice has upheld the city’s regulatory approvals of developer Gerald A. Buchheit’s Queen City Landing project on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, rejecting a lawsuit filed by preservationists to stop demolition of the Freezer Queen building now on the site.

The ruling by Justice Donna M. Siwek, just days after hearing oral arguments on both sides, represents a defeat for environmentalists and others opposed to the ambitious waterfront project. It allows Buchheit to begin tearing down the six-story Freezer Queen in the next several weeks.

Work already started on the 20-acre site at 975 Furhmann Boulevard in July, and crews will continue preparing the vacant building for demolition, according to a statement from Buchheit. The site will then be cleared before construction will begin on Buchheit’s new 23-story apartment tower, expected to be completed by late 2017.

“We are happy that the court has rendered a decision that supports progress in the City of Buffalo,” Buchheit said. “Queen City Landing has captured the imagination of people from throughout this community, who envision a vibrant Outer Harbor that will bring people to the water to live and to enjoy a rejuvenated waterfront.”

Arthur Giacalone, the Buffalo attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he could not comment because he had not yet read the decision. He noted that his clients have at least 30 days to ask the justice to reconsider the decision or file a notice of appeal, but no decision has been made on either option.

Buchheit plans to construct a 200-unit apartment complex, with two restaurants, a fitness center and an attached three-story parking ramp, along with public bike and walking paths, and water access. The $60 million private project is one of the largest development initiatives on Buffalo’s waterfront, and one of the few private efforts on the Outer Harbor, where most of the land is now publicly controlled.

After demolishing the old Freezer Queen, he plans to clean up the contaminated site under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, making the project eligible for tax credits to help with financing. Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and four individuals had filed lawsuits challenging the approvals by the Buffalo Planning Board and the Common Council. The suits cited procedural errors by the city, and alleged that the city government had failed to properly consider environmental risks and issue a detailed environmental impact statement in accordance with state law.

But Siwek found that the designation of the city Planning Board as the lead agency for the environmental review was appropriate, as was the use of Planning Department staff in the agency’s reviews, rejecting the procedural claims. The court also ruled that the rezoning of the property was proper, and that the Planning Board “complied with the substantive requirements” of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Siwek found the agency “took a hard look” as required at issues related to historic resources, community plans and character, aesthetics, traffic, plant and animal life, and migratory birds, and “found no significant adverse impact.”

Similarly, she found that the Common Council gave “extensive review” to the project before issuing a restricted use permit that Buchheit needed.

In statement Wednesday, city spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said, “The city is pleased with today’s court decision and has no further comment at this time.”

email: jepstein@buffnews.com

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