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Editorial: Zoning Board of Appeals should approve plan to build longshed at Canalside

When the Zoning Board of Appeals meets today to review the request by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. for a series of variances from the city’s Green Code, it should keep prominently in mind the effort being made to link Buffalo’s revitalized present with its storied past.

The agency is constructing a “longshed” that will become part of Canalside. The shed’s first purpose is to house construction a replica of the packet boat that ferried Gov. DeWitt Clinton from Buffalo to New York City as he marked the opening of the Erie Canal almost two centuries ago. What it needs: variances related to height, yard dimensions, lot coverage and window transparency.

The agency is seeking the first city approval for the $4 million project that, when it is operational, should draw residents and out-of-towners eager to get a look – and feel – for the historically accurate packet boat.

As part of that process, the agency wants to erect the longshed, a slender barn-like structure, on 0.2 acres at Prime and Lloyd streets, across the Commercial Slip from the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park building.

Plans are for the state-funded 4,000-square-foot pavilion to be used by the agency and the Buffalo Maritime Center to construct a replica of the 1825 packet boat, a commemoration of the critical piece of Buffalo’s history and nation’s development. The construction, which would take place in public and with the public’s help, represents a lead-up to the Erie Canal’s bicentennial in 2025.

Last August, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $24 million in investments for three Canalside projects. As part of that plan, HHL Architects is set to craft the year-round longshed facility to look similar to the type of wooden structure that existed along the canal in 1825.

It will take 2 to 2ø years to build the packet boat, creating the opportunity to draw interest from the community and attract attention to this historic site. Upon completion, the packet boat will be berthed in the Commercial Slip.

The educational-tourism component would be on display as the Maritime Center develops a tourism package of programming including rides, tours, exhibitions and lectures. The boat will also tour sections of the Erie Canal system once a year.

The building will have more than one use, as “flexible space” and a “public artisan factory” to house educational and historical programming or large gatherings. Its use will be Canalside-focused. According to the agency, complying with the Green Code regulations would “negatively impact the planned use and design intent.”

The project is fused to the identity of Canalside and will serve a public benefit. The Zoning Board should approach the agency’s request with the goal of making it work.

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