After attending a meeting of pro-Parkway partisans on Thursday night, taking a few drives, and finding out that there was a simultaneous pro-Bike Path meeting last Thursday, I decided to film a drive-by of the subject park lands. Councilman Mike Madigan tells me there is no way to build a bike path on the River, but instead wants one between two redundant two lane roadways. Apparently, Supervisor McMurray favors converting the existing Parkway into a bike path, but the Parkway really isn’t on the river either.
I am a biker, a scenic walker, and a cross country skier. If I am going to transport to Grand Island for any such activity, I want to be on the Niagara River, not trapped between two roads, staring at some houses. I can stare at houses in Amherst, North Buffalo or Clarence. I don’t think anyone would build the West River Parkway today. Neither the current pro environmental, anti-automobile attitude, or the traffic load would allow it. But the Parkway is already there and a riverside bike path is not. If the Parkway is a scenic route, slowing it down to 35 MPH from the present 55 would make it even more enjoyable. But that won’t make it a safe pedestrian walkway.
My generation sent a man to the Moon and brought him back safely to Earth, using what now seems like Stone Age technology. Therefore, in an effort to inspire the current local and state leadership, I have set my Parkway drive-by video to music and sound from the movie, The Right Stuff. I begin with the clip of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 which was built just across the river in Wheatfield. Click the movie box to see what the current situation is like from Buckhorn Island Park to the houses north of Beaver Island. I think there is no real reason why a bike path cannot be built between the Parkway and the river, but you decide for yourself. (If you look closely, at about 1:50 of the drive-by, you can see that there already is a bike path along the river for some distance.)
Conversations with West River Parkway Homeowner’s Association President, Frank Greco, reveal that Parkway land owners have state permits for temporary docks and vegetation management.
West Parkway Homeowners President Frank Greco
Mr. Greco also demonstrated that the river bank was not conducive to public access in many places and he produced documentation for the claim that permanent docks can be maintained by those owners “and their linear descendants” for 99 years from July 31, 1991.
All of the above lead me to ask: What is all the brouhaha about? Isn’t the simple solution building a bike path/multipurpose walkway along the river? Where are state bureaucratic and elected officials on this matter? What about Chris Jacobs and Amber Small? Where is Assemblyman John Ceretto? What is short time Senator Mark Panepinto’s position?
Somehow I have the feeling that, if someone would just buy a keg of beer at the local fire hall and call a meeting, all this could be worked out pretty easily. What am I missing?
Last night, about 400 people attended a public forum at Kleinhans Music Hall to get a peek at four proposed plans to redevelop the area where the soon to be former Women & Children’s Hospital currently stands.
If you’d like to get a play-by-play of what went down, you can visit Buffalo Rising and The Buffalo News to get the gist and read the comments and so on.
Me, I’m more of a people-person. So I say let’s get to know some of the individuals who will be populating our streets in just a few short years—starting with these two millenials in the lower left hand corner of a Ciminelli rendering, chatting away on Elmwood…
(Click on the images for a better view.)
“He was all like ‘I’m not ready to make that kind commitment’ and I’m like ‘Splitting the check with me is not much of a commitment.'”
Your heart really goes out to her, because you know that her non-committal boyfriend is in fact the hipster fixie bicycle dude bro captured here, one-hour earlier, checking out a young woman walking her dogs at the very same intersection in a Uniland rendering…
“Awesome. If I could hook up with her, I could…like…walk her dogs and use them to meet more women.”
You want to tell her she deserves so much better, but you can’t because she exists in the future and you are forever separated by time. Luckily, it seems her friend has the patience of a saint, walking all over the Elmwood Village, listening to her vent about this douchebag…
“He says he wants to get a dog, and I’m like ‘Why don’t you get a job, first?'”
Que sera, sera.
I’m also a little suspicious of this pack of hoodlums, always loitering around on Elmwood…
And by the soccer field…
They just seem so unwholesome next to the kids playing soccer and giving themselves high-fives for no apparent reason. I hope they eventually work out their issues and manage to stay out of prison and go on to lead somewhat normal lives. I could be over reacting. Teenagers will be teenagers.
What’s even more disconcerting than a few hoodlums may be the strange dystopia envisioned by Ellicott Development, where people do not interact with one another, and seem to walk alone at regularly spaced intervals under a darkening sky…
(Blaring from loudspeakers) WAR IS PEACE…FREEDOM IS SLAVERY…IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Then there’s the plan that’ll turn Elmwood and Bryant into a hopping destination at dusk, complete with people hanging out on their balconies, bicyclists of all ages, jaywalking dog-walkers, a line of people on the sidewalk waiting to get into a restaurant, street musicians…
This vision of the future seems to be getting positive reviews, but I can tell you right now that it’s a pipe dream. There is absolutely no way that street musicians will be tolerated anywhere near popular restaurants in Buffalo. They’re barely tolerated anywhere now. I’m willing to bet that a banjo player picking “Orange Blossom Special” on the sidewalk near Rue Franklin might quickly find out that bluegrass and foie gras do not mix.
And what’s with this poor musician who’s forced to sit on the curb, strumming a ukulele? That’s just pathetic.
Having read last week’s cover story about Architect/Developer Karl Frizlen’s proposed project for 794 Potomac Avenue, you may be wondering what transpired at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) hearing, held on January 20. Because social media spreads word faster than wildfire, you may already know that the variance Frizlen sought to double the currently allowable density, from thirteen units to twenty-six, was denied. But how did it go down? Artvoice was there.
But before we get to the play-by-play, a note about a couple of developments (so to speak) that occurred between our cover story and the ZBA hearing:
In a post on Buffalo Rising, which gave the impression of boosting the project, several commenters noted the historic significance of the farmhouse on the site, one of only a handful remaining farmhouses in the Elmwood Village. As some are coming to learn, the farmhouse is also the only remaining structure from the large “suburban” estate of the Lord family, one of the most prominent families of 19th-Century Buffalo.
And at last Saturday’s Elmwood Village Green Code forum, City Hall’s top Green Code expert, Chris Hawley, deflated Frizlen’s assertion (made to the neighbors) that his project would qualify under Green Code (apparently, a lot of developers have been saying that lately). “My impressions are that the building would be too large for Green Code,” Hawley said when the issue was raised. At the same forum, Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who articulated a number of concerns about how Green Code might affect the Elmwood Village, and who lives a block away from this proposed project, joked that he couldn’t walk his dog anymore because neighbors keep stopping him to express their opposition.
Given all that stage-setting, it came as no surprise to find an estimated fifty community members at the ZBA hearing, spilling out into the corridor and hallway beyond the ninth-floor hearing room.
We arrived with the presentation by Karl Frizlen already under way. The Zoning Board of Appeals Chair, Rev. James Lewis, apparently eager to get to the community’s input, was trying to cut Frizlen off before he could finish. Karl protested that he had just two more points, and Lewis let him go on.
“We’ll hear a lot of contradictory voices here…,” Frizlen tried to continue, drawing laughter from the crowd, before Lewis interrupted him. “I don’t want you to editorialize. I need you to help me here, from the heart.” Frizlen resumed, “typically the people who support a project don’t show up for meetings like this…” “You’re editorializing again,” Lewis interrupted. “This stack of letters (pointing) says you don’t own the property, so there’s no hardship, correct?” “Not right now, no.”
That was enough for Lewis, who then moved into community input. He referenced the petition of 151 signatures the board had received. “And each one wrote a letter.” The audience laughed as he again pointed to the stack of letters. Looking at the crowd spilling out into the hallway, Lewis suggested that representatives of organizations speak, rather than entertaining dozens of comments.
First up was Attorney Norman Viti, speaking for his Potomac Avenue block club. “This quasi-governmental entity has wide discretion, but it’s based on burden of proof. Frizlen hasn’t yet met that burden.” Explaining their opposition, Viti claimed misstatements and inaccuracies on the part of the developer. “Frizlen says the neighborhood is all multi-family residential, but we’ve identified at least thirteen single-family residences. Windsor is mostly single-family, and Saybrook is all single-family.”
After more cogent comments, Viti made the kind of summation one could imagine might win him a case in court, “The good news is that people want to develop in the City of Buffalo now. But we don’t have to accept second-rate options anymore.” “The reason people want to be in that neighborhood now is because of the investments of the residents—over decades.” “There’s no argument here: you have the do-nothing option. This property has not been on the open market. Someone will buy this property, and develop it in a manner consistent with the neighborhood.”
His remarks drew widespread applause, and Lewis joked that perhaps Viti should be running for District Attorney.
Another attorney, Lauren Turner, spoke on behalf of the Inwood Place block club. She said that they are not opposed to the development of the site, but opposed to the variances. She talked about the character of Inwood Place and Potomac Avenue—both part of the Elmwood East Historic District—with houses built close to the street, and with full-width porches. Frizlen’s project would be the first new build on the block in a century.
Parking was less of a problem when there was only one car and a horse-drawn wagon on the street.
What a difference a century makes.
Resident Joe Kennedy, who owns Spars Sausage in Black Rock, and who owns one of the properties on the block with no driveway access, talked about the challenges with parking there. It’s not just an inconvenience to him, he pointed out, but can also create problems with renting second units.
But it was neighborhood leader Mike Tritto who had the most memorable line of the hearing. “We see this outsized design as the equivalent of docking an ocean freighter among a collection of fishing boats,” Tritto metaphorized. “We have thirty-foot wide streets in the neighborhood. Frizlen’s other projects are on Elmwood, Hertel, Utica—commercial streets with bus routes.” Further, Tritto said he “feels the developer mislead them.” “We believe this project is an attempt to maximize return on investment at the expense of neighborhood character.”
His remarks also drew widespread applause.
Rev. Lewis said he wanted to hear from the district councilman, and Councilman Joel Feroleto said that people aren’t against development, but they’re against the proposed density. He said that correspondence has been overwhelmingly against the project. He asked that the variance be denied.
Someone asked if the Elmwood Village Association was present, and Executive Director Carly Battin spoke, saying that her organization decided—“narrowly,” she said—to oppose the variance, and submitted a letter to that effect. She said that Frizlen “has not demonstrated hardship,” and “it’s our understanding that variances are granted based on consistency with community character.” She said EVA “would like to hold ongoing dialog with the developer and neighbors.”
(As an aside: Isn’t it interesting that despite the overwhelming community opposition—more vocal and unified than on any issue in recent memory—the Elmwood Village Association only “narrowly” decided to oppose the variance? And also interesting that Battin felt the need to clearly qualify their decision as made “narrowly”? She gave the impression that they were almost uncomfortable about being in opposition to even a clearly inappropriate development. It raises the question of whether EVA has gotten seriously out of sync with the community. Along those lines, at Saturday’s Elmwood Village Green Code forum, Deborah Lynn Williams, former Western New York chief of staff for Senator Chuck Shumer, spoke fondly of the days when EVA was engaged in grassroots initiatives like the Elmwood Village Design Standards, under leaders like Jessie Fisher and Justin Azzarella. But it’s clear, she said, that “the Elmwood Village Association no longer represents the community.” At that, the room erupted into applause and outright cheering.)
After hearing from these speakers, Lewis asked for Frizlen to respond. You can see and hear his response in this video clip…
He offered to soldier on. “Of course, we can continue meeting with the neighbors, and shape the building so it’s acceptable—most likely, not to all of them, but hopefully to some of them,” he said. He also mentioned the brownfield tax credits, even though they weren’t a subject of the hearing, saying that while they weren’t necessary for the project, if they were granted, they would be a “bonus.” That prompted a heckle from the back of room that Rev. Lewis quickly squelched.
Frizlen also made a belated pitch (perhaps one of the points he had wanted to make at the beginning, before Lewis cut him off) for accessible housing, claiming to have surveyed the neighborhood and found not a single unit that is “barrier-free or handicapped accessible.” Referring to older residents, he said, “what we are trying to do is accommodate a demographic that is not considered” by most developers.
But it wasn’t remotely enough. When it came time for the board to vote, they denied the variance with dispatch. Board member Anthony Diina moved to deny, and the vote was unanimous.
After the hearing, Artvoice caught up with Lauren Turner and Mike Tritto to get their reactions to the proceedings. Turner said she was struck by the “overwhelming opposition,” and said she was “taken aback by Mr. Frizlen’s inability to articulate a hardship. He keeps pointing out the benefits of his proposed project without explaining why the project needs to be as big as it is in order to provide those benefits.” She said that having accessible units is great, but “why not thirteen instead of twenty-six?”
Tritto told us, “I’m really proud of our neighborhood. We had people from all walks of life who came out today. People have been here for years, have raised families, and want to be here for the rest of their lives.” About Frizlen, he said, “Karl is skilled, and a businessman. But we had to oppose this. We’d be interested in smart density, such as two-family houses. He wants to double the density.” “We’re the ones who sustain a neighborhood, not the developers. We think the Zoning Board of Appeals heard that.”
Speaking of his experience doing community revitalization work in impoverished areas of Buffalo’s east, west, and north sides, Tritto added, “Developers are homing in on middle-class neighborhoods. What about spreading it around?”
Above is a photo taken this morning of the big, grassy field in front of City Honors School—currently owned by the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority. BMHA bought the land from the city for $15,000 in 1977 and constructed the long-dilapidated and recently demolished Woodson Gardens housing complex there.
Looking good, BMHA!
With the land now cleared again, there has been a movement afoot to return it to its original use as an athletic field for both the school and the neighborhood—which is starved for green space. Adjacent to the medical campus, the real estate is now appraised at $2.1 million, despite containing human remains from when it was used as a potter’s field in the 1800s.
Construction of the field is estimated at $2.9 million. According to speakers at today’s press conference, the money would need to come from a combination of public and private investment. Visit www.restoreourfield.org to learn more about the plans and view a virtual tour of the restored green space.
Here’s the catch: The BMHA has already put the land on the market, asking for $2,137,000. Although BMHA officials did not return calls and emails requesting comment, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spokesman Charles McNally was quick to confirm that the real estate is currently for sale.
“Once they receive an offer, they will submit an application to HUD for formal approval to dispose of the land,” McNally said.
The restoration of the field is endorsed by:
Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus
Fruitbelt Neighborhood Coalition
UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Orchard Community Initiative
City of Buffalo Preservation Board
Cornerstone Manor/Buffalo City Mission
UB School of Clinical and Translational Research Center
City Honors Parent, Teacher, Student Community Organization (PTSCO)
Fosdick-Masten Park High School Alumni Association
Perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the past year’s controversy over our Outer Harbor has been the “Riverkeeper Plan.” When Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan announced their opposition, last fall, to ECHDC’s preferred plan, they instead expressed their support for the “Riverkeeper Plan,” with graphics showing, essentially, the ECHDC plan with less development, and in fewer places. Many in the public, including this author, came to see those graphics as the “Riverkeeper Plan.” And we were wrong. How so?
At a recent panel discussion moderated by Dan Telvock, award-winning environmental reporter for Artvoice’s media partner the Investigative Post, Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper Jill Jedlicka was asked about the “Riverkeeper Plan,” and seemed relieved to have the chance to set the record straight. She emphasized that her organization’s plan is less about a graphic than a set of principles that should guide and inform any plan for the Outer Harbor—it’s more an alternate vision than a “plan.”
Click image for a larger view
Riverkeeper’s alternate vision was put together hurriedly, in the crisis atmosphere created in the wake of the September unveiling of Empire State Development’s preferred plan for the Outer Harbor. Riverkeeper was as caught off guard as anyone by that development-heavy plan (2,100 new residential units). Jedlicka told the panel that, because they had been working in what they thought was a collaborative manner with ECHDC, they thought they understood the preferred plan would de-emphasize development. (They weren’t alone in this: I was told by sources at City Hall, and even a member of ECHDC’s consulting team, that the question of housing went back and forth right up until the deadline, and some weren’t sure what they would see until the public unveiling.)
Click image for a larger view
At the public unveiling, they learned that ECHDC planned to formally adopt the preferred alternative at their board meeting the following week. With just four days to respond, Riverkeeper’s planning team put together the set of principles and Photoshopped images taken from ECHDC’s plan, suggesting a possible compromise. Thinking they had only a few days to influence the process, they put out their alternative the quickest way they knew how: by posting it on their website.
While ECHDC’s Outer Harbor locomotive flattened all concerns like nothing more than a penny on the tracks, the brakes were thrown when Mayor Byron Brown and County Executive Mark Poloncarz, ex-officio though non-voting ECHDC board members, asked that the vote be postponed. That’s when the “Riverkeeper Plan” was taken up as a banner by Congressman Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Sean Ryan, whose October press conferences made clear that ECHDC needed to go back to the drawing board (where, as of press time, they remain). Jedlicka is now taking great pains to clarify that it was not the Photoshopped drawings, but the principles, that Higgins and Ryan are supporting.
Those principles are: 1. Lake Erie is a public trust resource [in other words, It’s Everybody’s Waterfront (notice a theme?)] 2. High standards of excellence are needed for our entire waterfront 3. A vision for the emerging blue economy 4. Utilize comprehensive and integrated planning
If you haven’t yet (or it’s been since last fall), it’s worth taking a look at what Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper has to say about the Outer Harbor. Click here to visit the link.
Peter Harnik Presents in Buffalo on May 6 by Alan Oberst
Peter Harnik literally wrote the book about urban parks. Several books, in fact. As director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, Harnik has become the nation’s leading expert on urban parks—accidentally, and on purpose. After co-founding the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and growing it to an organization of national stature, Harnik joined the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to consult on urban parks. But when Harnik couldn’t find the answer the simple question, “what is the largest urban park in the United States?” he realized his first task was collecting data. The published results of that two-year research project made Harnik and TPL the go-to source on parks in cities.
Peter Harnik will be speaking in Buffalo at six o’clock on May 6, at the Burchfield-Penney Arts Center. The presentation will be free, and the public is invited. Harnik was invited by the 21st Century Park on the Outer Harbor, an organization pursuing a modern realization of Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a large park on Buffalo’s Lake Erie shoreline (that surprisingly forward-thinking vision, including wind-powered lighting, and access via electric water taxis, was put on hold by over a century of waterfront industrialization).
Harnik’s visit couldn’t come at a better time, for a city grappling with questions of what to do with, arguably, its most important public asset: its Great Lakes shoreline, located at a critical geographic and ecological crossroads. And in a city at a metaphorical crossroads, turning the page on decades of disinvestment that resulted in dilapidation and depredations in what was once a forward-thinking, world-leading parks system. Ominously, in Harnik’s latest book, Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, Buffalo is literally the last word, in the last table, in the last appendix, of the book’s last page: Our Fair City is dead last among our nation’s large cities in per-capita parks spending—at half the spending of our nearest competitor for that dubious honor (based on 2007 data). Seeing that helped me understand what Patrick Whalen of the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus said to parks advocates: it can be a challenge to recruit top talent to Buffalo, in part because we don’t have the amenities of many large cities. Buffalo may be the only large city on the Great Lakes without a large park on its Great Lake.
Harnik should be well-positioned to give us insight on these matters, as his books are chock full of not only data, but examples and case studies of innovative park projects, and funding arrangements—some of which his organization has helped broker. He also speaks to the ever-broadening concept of “park,” from natural areas with little human presence other than hikers and birdwatchers, to “placemade” public spaces. All these are factors in what we do with Everybody’s Waterfront—our Outer Harbor. We can’t afford to get this wrong, and if Harnik has anything to do with it, we won’t.