By Margaret Wooster
Buffalo lost in court last week when State Supreme Court Justice Donna Siwek ruled that no environmental impact statement is required for a private developer to build a 23-story residential tower on the Outer Harbor.
The court dismissed a legal challenge to the project despite the project’s inconsistency with surrounding recreational and nature preserve uses, despite its vulnerability to extreme Lake Erie weather, despite proximity to three Department of State-designated “significant coastal habitats,” despite lack of services to support or even evacuate the proposed 23 stories’ worth of new residents in an area with no other human residents around for a couple of miles in any direction, despite historic register eligibility of the existing Freezer Queen structure, despite the toxic and unstable mess that will be left by demolishing that structure on site and building the tower on top of it, despite the migratory bird flyway along the shoreline, despite the 100-year floodplain, and despite the protests of many stakeholders including Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and four citizen petitioners who raised all these questions to the City Planning Board, to the Common Council and to many other elected officials.
Any one of these conditions should have triggered the “hard look” provided by an environmental impact statement. An EIS would place the burden on the developer to show how this project will not have a significant adverse impact on our Outer Harbor. And it would force the developer and city officials to consider alternatives and appropriate mitigation measures.
The decision leaves all of us, whether we use the Outer Harbor for recreation or simply pay our taxes, to pick up the pieces and costs – and to explain to our children how Buffalo decision-makers once again made an expensive mistake. They chose to support the short-term gains of a few rather than a sustainable course for the many that would conserve our natural and cultural heritage.
The decision sets a poor precedent for the Green Code about to be adopted. It demonstrates that it is the developer, and not the Common Council, City Planning Board or the public, that decides what gets built in Buffalo, and what our future will look like. If an environmental impact statement was not required in this case, with all the obvious impacts on our lake shore, will it be required for the Elmwood Village? For the Fruit Belt? For any other place that people care about in Buffalo?
Fortunately, Buffalo’s citizens have begun a campaign, OUR Outer Harbor, to conserve the natural and cultural assets of our city’s waterfront, beginning with a public meeting Sept. 28 at Buffalo RiverWorks on Ganson Street after a tour of the Outer Harbor.
Margaret Wooster is lead petitioner in Wooster v. Queen City Landing LLC, City of Buffalo Planning Board and City of Buffalo Common Council.