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Canal Side Hearing: A Packed House and Pertinent Comments

Last night’s public hearing at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery played to around 400 attendees, 60 of whom commented after the initial presentation of the Draft Generic Environmental Impact Study (DGEIS) for Canal Side. 

ECHDC Board Chairman Jordan Levy opened the hearing with the statement that the plan those in attendance were about to see was the culmination of 7 years of work, and he asked that all “keep an open mind.”

EE&K Architects Founder Stan Eckstut said that the Erie Canal is where the city began and grew from.  “We’re trying to recall it while advancing into the future.  Before, it was all mules and cargo, and our plan is to start to invade it with real people,” Eckstut stated.  He pointed out that the objective was in trying to integrate the new with the old, making all things a positive part of the new development.
Though not many in the crowd had time to digest the entire 2,000 pages of appendices to the DGEIS since its release earlier this week, many were able to zero in on the parts that were special to their own interests, thereby giving a wide range of opinions in the comments.  Understand that there was no question and answer period, simply a dissemination of information on the part of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation project planners, and feedback from community members.
After the presentation, many took to the microphone to praise the ECHDC for their efforts, while several others presented issues that they felt had been overlooked in the planning.  The purpose of a public hearing in the draft phase of planning lends itself to modification of the plan by the ECHDC.  As noted repeatedly by local politicians who spoke during the comment phase, it is a rare project in Buffalo that is brought to the public so early with so much information, in an effort to tailor development to the needs and reasonable suggestions of the community.  
That being said, one major theme of the commenters was opposition to the project’s proposed parking garage, with most if not all of the friction coming from residents of Marine Towers, along with that of their attorney, who was the lengthiest speaker of the evening’s comment segment.
1,400 pages of the plans appendices are dedicated to transportation in actual and projected figures.  Several speakers suggested that there is ample parking in and around the downtown area that would seem to be adequate. However, the entire Canal Side development plan calls for “2,500 close but unobtrusive parking option/spaces in order to accommodate the expected visitors to the entire sight,” and that would include the proposed Bass Pro.  While free, covered parking in the ramp is being offered to the residents of the Marine Drive Apartments through the plan, they have concerns about traffic, air pollution, noise pollution and crime due to the structure.  The traffic and pollution issues were addressed in the DGEIS in regard to the parking garage and found to be within acceptable levels. Those findings will be challenged by the apartment complex association’s attorney, who called for an extension of the comment period beyond November 2nd, so that he could consult Federal guidelines.
The remainder of the comments called for many plans for things as varied as farmer’s markets, ethnic representation for American Indians, and historical perspectives in terms of abolitionists and pre-civil war conditions at the harbor. A representative of Roswell Park Cancer Institute asked that the entire area be declared smoke free, a resident of Marine Drive asked that the project integrate into the community rather than visa versa, and more than one commenter asked that the raw sewage problem with the Hamburg Drain be remediated and considered when adding new sewage systems.
One commenter suggested that the plan make sure there would be two lanes of outgoing traffic on the East side of Main Street, while another asked if we could have “a decent beach.”  A frequent boater said he inspired excitement in all of his boater friends this summer when he took them to Canal Side.  He warned that the images in the presentation of barges and boats parked in canals in other cities was fine, but that the plan here needs more docking, a ramp, a pump-out station, showers, bathrooms, and other amenities that would be attractive to boaters.
Peg Overdorf of the Valley Community Association, founders of Buffalo River Fest Park, commented that with Ice Boom Park coming, the harbor project will connect with all of the waterfront south of it, creating “a string of pearls.”  She is concerned with public access along the waterfront that would connect all of these separate but related venues.
Tim Tielman with The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture said, “If we accept the Generic Environmental Impact Study, we’ll end up with a generic plan that could be anywhere.”  His concern is over land use in the area, and he fears the ECHDC will “bypass regulations to expedite the project.”  He will be holding a workshop on November 1st at CGBHAC in regard to the plan.  “We’re asked to accept promises,” Tielman said, “but this DGEIS, if approved would de facto supersede the 2004 plan, and will destroy our greatest resource.” 
Gladys Gifford, president of the Citizens Regional Transit Corporation said she was disappointed not to see anything about the Donovan Building being featured as a possible multi-modal transportation center.  “We have parking, we have excellent light rail…could you provide for a solar powered carousel?” Gifford asked.  She also noted that in the plan, there was data that stated that parking would be a comfortable walking distance from the venue.  “There’s no mention of metro service,” Gifford stated.  “This project ignores mass transit.”  Gifford said she would like to see the project enhance the existing infrastructure of Metro Rail.
Those who did not have a chance to make comment last night can email their comments and suggestions to Paul Tronolone until November 2nd.
Image: Taken early in the evening before the seats filled up.
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