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Appeals court upholds Queen City Landing approvals

A panel of state appeals justices Friday rejected the arguments of an environmental group and several individuals seeking to block the proposed Queen City Landing project, potentially clearing the way for work to begin on the planned 23-story apartment tower on Lake Erie.

The unanimous ruling by the Appellate Division of the Fourth Judicial Department upheld a prior court decision in favor of developer Gerald A. Buchheit and the City of Buffalo.

The cases had been filed by Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and a group of four people – Margaret Wooster, Clayton S. "Jay" Burney Jr., Lynda K. Stephens and James E. Carr – in an effort to overturn the approvals granted by the Buffalo Planning Board and Buffalo Common Council for the project.

Riverkeeper and the individuals had asserted that the Planning Board had wrongly been designated as the "lead agency" for the environmental review process and had abdicated its responsibilities by improperly relying on staff from the city's Strategic Planning Department to fill out part of a form and write the final approval resolution. They also claimed the Planning Board didn't follow state environmental law, that a rezoning was invalid, and that the Common Council improperly granted a restricted-use permit for the project.

The appellate panel denied all of those claims.

“This is a victory for progress and a victory for our Outer Harbor,” Buchheit said. “We are investing significant time and resources in the herculean effort of transforming a long-vacant site on the Outer Harbor.”

Buchheit is planning to construct a residential tower at the Outer Harbor – with nearly 200 units, restaurants, a fitness center, a parking ramp and a glass facade – on part of a 20-acre peninsula on Fuhrmann Boulevard jutting into the lake. The project has been held up by the litigation, after a judge ordered a halt to any construction activity pending Friday's ruling. But crews are still working on the environmental cleanup on the site anyway.

Arthur Giacalone, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, said he had not yet reviewed the ruling.

"I'm disappointed in the results, but I still have to look at it more closely before deciding what our options are," he said.

A final lawsuit by the plaintiffs, challenging only the Planning Board's subdivision approval for the project, is still pending.

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