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Controversial Outer Harbor amphitheater project gets a mulligan

Controversial Outer Harbor amphitheater project gets a mulligan

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Outer Harbor music pavilion

A rendering of the pavilion on the Outer Harbor.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is calling a mulligan.

Three months after getting a special-use permit to create an amphitheater on the Lake Erie waterfront, the state agency responsible for development of Canalside and the Outer Harbor is coming back to the Common Council and city Planning Board for reapproval – apparently because it didn't do something right the first time.

Specifically, according to critics of the proposed events center, the Council failed to get written findings from the Planning Board, which is mandated as part of the permit review and approval process. And that permit is required before any work can begin on the 9.81-acre site, because the project is within the Outer Harbor Review Area.

Slip No. 3 has been a dead zone for decades, ever since the slip was deepened to support commercial freighters. A 10-year coastal habitat project with lead agency the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is going to restore the area by filling it with dredged material so that it's shallow enough to be a nursery habitat for native fish species. The plan also calls for a bridge at the far end of the slip to Wilkeson Pointe along with walking trails by the water's edge. The #BNdrone gives you a birds-eye view of the area.

The gaffe is largely a minor administrative matter, since the permit had been recommended by the Planning Board. But the concession by the city is giving opponents of the proposed event center a second bite at the apple to try to block the plan, which they say will harm the waterfront, disrupt the tranquility they enjoy, and prevent the entire area from being permanently designated as a state park.

Members of the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara, 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor and Western New York Environmental Alliance already sued the city and ECHDC in June, accusing both of violating state environmental laws and putting the lake's ecology, migratory birds, aquatic life and wildlife at risk by allowing concerts and other events.

Among other claims, the lawsuit said the city failed to obtain the necessary written findings, and did not conduct a thorough environmental review. The suit also says the plan is not consistent with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. The lawsuit is still pending in State Supreme Court.

But ECHDC isn't stopping. The agency is also now seeking site plan approval for its $12 million plan at 901 Fuhrmann Blvd., which would convert the vacant former Terminal B warehouse and adjacent land into an open-air structure for concerts, festivals and other events, with "continuous views to the water from the nearby paths and lawn," according to the application. ECHDC already approved moving Canalside concerts there.

Under the proposal, the building's shell would be removed, leaving a 100,000-square-foot steel structure on an elevated concrete slab, with stairs and ramps added along the perimeter for pedestrian access. A small stage with an open-air canopy would be added on the north end, facing east.

That's where the landscape will be changed to reduce the paved surface, improve drainage and increase greenspace, with a new crescent-shaped lawn and higher elevations for better views of the lake. An overlook deck, bicycle trails, habitat restoration area, walking path and limited lighting will also be added, with a Great Lawn in back.

The project will be considered again by the Planning Board at 4 p.m. Monday, and by the Council's Legislation Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday. If approved, the project would take 15 months of construction.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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