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Queen City Landing project clears last legal hurdle

A state Supreme Court justice this week cleared the way for Queen City Landing developer Gerald Buchheit to proceed with his $60 million residential tower on Buffalo's Outer Harbor, after dismissing the last legal challenge currently facing the project.

In a four-page decision issued Monday but released Thursday, Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto sided with Buchheit and the City of Buffalo, ruling that the Buffalo Planning Board had acted properly under both city laws and the State Environmental Quality Review Act when it approved the developer's project for the second time.

The Article 78 challenge - filed by Buffalo residents Margaret Wooster, Clayton S. "Jay" Burney Jr., Lynda K. Stephens and James E. Carr - had sought to challenge the board's March 2017 approval of a subdivision plan for the 20-acre peninsula site at 975 Furhmann Blvd. The plaintiffs claimed the board failed to consider if new information it received after December 2016 would change the earlier environmental conclusions from May 2016, but Panepinto upheld the city actions.

This is the latest setback for the project opponents, who already tried unsuccessfully to challenge the original site plan approval for the project from 2016. That case was also rejected by the Supreme Court and then again by the Appellate Division in May 2017.

"For nearly two years, we have defended our lawful right to develop our privately-owned site along the Outer Harbor. Through multiple lawsuits and appeals, we have held firm to our belief that our Outer Harbor can be more than an unfortunate scar of what used to be, but instead a vision for what can be realized through private investment, belief and commitment," Buchheit said in a statement.

"The latest ruling issued today reiterates what previous courts have found, namely that the approvals for Queen City Landing were lawful, and more important, that our private site, and the Outer Harbor will not be held captive by those who are intent on stifling progress and development."

Attorney Arthur Giacalone, representing the local residents, said he was "disappointed," and would be meeting with his clients next week to review options that could include another appeal.

Barring further legal action, Buchheit can now proceed with his plan to construct a 23-story apartment tower, with two restaurants and other features, on the former Freezer Queen site. The old building already was demolished and the site cleared, and Buchheit is now seeking to complete the hazardous cleanup under state supervision. A comment period on that plan ends in April.

Construction can begin after the cleanup is completed.

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