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Editorial: Conflict on the waterfront with Queen City Landing

The Buffalo Planning Board may have tabled a request by Queen City Landing developer Gerald Buchheit for a planned-unit development designation for his Outer Harbor project but it should signal only a bump in the effort to produce a broadly acceptable agreement.

Buchheit is not the first developer – nor will he likely be the last – to seek a single set of zoning rules for an entire property. The designation simplifies matters for the developer but irks some who oppose projects, for a variety of reasons.

Developers Nick Sinatra and William Paladino, planning to convert the former Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo campus into Elmwood Crossing, can speak to the challenges of requesting a planned-unit development designation, or PUD, and, in this case, neighborhood objections.

Still, the Outer Harbor project should not be stymied by Buchheit’s reasonable request. There are no neighbors, really, to contend with and there is nothing out there. Granted, there are environmental considerations but none that cannot be negotiated to the satisfaction of developer and conservationists.

So here is where critics stand, as reported by The News’ Jonathan D. Epstein:

The project is “too tall and large for the site.” Buchheit’s revised proposal calls for Queen City Landing to top out at 20 stories and 240 feet.

The project is “inappropriate as a private development on the waterfront.” And what about public access to the lake, critics ask. They fear it will endanger the environment and create voluminous traffic in the area. People there would risk flood hazards, they say, and the building would be dangerous to migratory birds and fish.

No disrespect, but where have we heard these arguments, or some version, before? Possibly the last project, or the one before that, or the one before that?

This is not to defend developers and municipal officials from oversight or criticism, but opposition here is too often reflexive. In this case, the Queen City Landing project is proposed on a site previously occupied by an industrial development.

An apartment is not preposterous – as long as such projects don’t crowd the waterfront. We don’t want to become like Miami. But that’s unlikely, given how much of the Outer Harbor is already protected.

An attorney representing Buchheit handed the board a thick packet of information that required time to digest. In tabling the request, board members said they had too many questions. The PUD designation must be approved by the Common Council, which considers the recommendation from the Planning Board.

The best course is to allow the planned-unit development and, in that context, figure out how best to satisfy both parties so that environment and humans can responsibly co-exist.

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