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ECHDC seeks city zoning variances for new longshed at Canalside

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is moving ahead with plans to construct a new "longshed" facility as part of Canalside, as the state agency seeks the first city approval for the $4 million project.

The agency, a subsidiary of Empire State Development Corp., wants to erect the long, slender barn-like structure on 0.2 acres just across the Commercial Slip from the Buffalo & Erie County Naval Park building.

Located at the corner of Prime and Lloyd streets, the 4,000-square-foot pavilion – paid for by the state – will be used by ECHDC and the Buffalo Maritime Center to construct a replica of the 1825 packet boat that transported Gov. DeWitt Clinton from Buffalo to New York City to mark the official opening of the Erie Canal. It was unveiled as part of a package of $24 million in investments for three Canalside projects that was unveiled by Gov. Cuomo in August.

Designed by HHL Architects with cedar siding and corrugated steel roofing, the year-round facility will look like the kind of wooden structure that existed along the Canal in 1825, similar to the former Newman & Scovill Groceries and Ship Chandlers store that used to be there.

Once completed, the packet boat will be berthed in the Commercial Slip, where the Maritime Center will develop a tourism package of programming around it that will include rides, tours, dinners and lectures. The boat will also tour sections of the Erie Canal system once a year.

After the boat is done, the building will be used as flexible space and a "public artisan factory" to house educational and historical programming or large gatherings for various purposes "to enhance the public use of Canalside and the boardwalk," according to documents submitted to the city. It will also offer bathrooms and shade for visitors.

A rendering of the proposed building.

Erie Canal Harbor Development is asking the Zoning Board of Appeals for a series of four variances from the city's Green Code related to height, yard dimensions, lot coverage and window transparency.

"Due to the unique siting of this building on the existing boardwalk, along the river and Commercial Slip, complying with these [requirements] will negatively impact the planned use and design intent," the agency wrote in its application to the ZBA.

The agency noted that the building's location is dictated by "modern uses and public needs," including the movement and safety of pedestrians around the pavilion. Officials cited slip wall supports, former bridge and building foundations and other underground conditions, as well as the need to avoid creating a "potentially dangerous dead-end alley" along the boardwalk side next to the Commercial Slip.

"Currently the site is a simple open boardwalk and lawn along the water's edge, but historically, and as per the intended Master Plan for the site, there are various building types/sizes which are intended to be developed here in the future," ECHDC wrote. "This building is the first reintroduced, so it begins to contribute to the creation of the 'character" of the neighborhood."

The ZBA will consider the request on Jan. 16.

A rendering of the inside of the proposed longshed.

The agency will also review a separate application by William Breeser for construction of a 100-foot by 200-foot warehouse addition at 680 New Babcock St. that will be attached via a breezeway to an existing building used by Better Wire Products. Breeser is asking for four variances, including for a wider driveway and curb-cut than allowed by the code.

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