Outer Harbor

Published on September 5th, 2014 | by GrowWNYAdmin


Principles for Outer Harbor Evolution

By: The Western New York Environmental Alliance

Editor’s note: The WNYEA has updated their Outer Harbor Principles (March 2015).

Principle 1: The city’s waterfront is everybody’s waterfront. Respect the public trust.

Principle 2: The Outer Harbor is a part of the city of Buffalo and the region of Niagara. Work within the existing planning framework and strategic initiatives that will support the overall development of the region. Use only existing buildings for development and don’t create the necessity for new infrastructure.

Principle 3: The transition of Buffalo’s Lake Erie waterfront from port to public lands should contribute to the overall wealth of the city and region. Deploy the “Triple Bottom Line” 21st Century economic strategy and the potential of the “Blue Economy.” Practice full cost accounting, the highest standard of fiscal integrity, and environmental justice.

Principle 4: The lands and waters of the Outer Harbor have unique ecological functions that support local, regional, and global organisms and habitats. Respect and enhance the integrity of the ecological processes in, or supported by, the Outer Harbor.

Principle 5: The Outer Harbor is a critical asset for establishing the city’s position in the region and its reputation as a creative and progressive city. Create a great lakefront that is uniquely Buffalo.


September 2014

It is a truly exciting time for our region and its future. Our region has witnessed the formation of a strategic framework to move the region forward through many collaborative processes and have started to create a pathway for our region to think about how we evolve over the long term.  We are beginning to learn from our mistakes of the past and think about how we might invest for the future by being more strategic and with an eye toward building a better tomorrow.

Evidence of this shift has taken form in many examples including:

  • A more collaborative and bottom up economic development process with the Regional Economic Development Council’s (REDC) Strategy for Prosperity;
  • A broad based, collaborative effort known as One Region Forward that works to promote more sustainable forms of development in Erie and Niagara counties in land use, transportation, housing, energy and climate and access to food;
  • More progressive strategic plans such as the City of Buffalo’s Comprehensive Plan, the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and the Buffalo Green Code; and
  • Over 100 environmental organizations working together in collaboration through the Western New York Environmental Alliance (WNYEA) to think about how we can get it right this time.

The future of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor offers a unique opportunity to test the discipline of our region’s new thinking and our emerging smarter strategic direction.  The lands of the Outer Harbor (defined by the WNYEA from the mouth of the Buffalo River to the City border) have been the subject of planning efforts since the 1982 plan by the City of Buffalo/Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority/New York State Department of Transportation followed by numerous efforts to determine the ‘best use’ for this strategic section of land.  Thousands of citizens have participated in developing a vision for our lakefront over the last 30 years.

Six months ago, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC) began a new planning process.  Prior to hiring consultant Perkins + Will, ECHDC Advisory Committee crafted guiding principles for the development of a master plan for the Outer Harbor (similar to those created for the Brooklyn Bridge planning process).  The WNYEA believes these principles, developed without public input, do not adequately capture or value the triple bottom line (ecological, economic and social) benefits provided by this key site.

In an effort to help align the current process with Buffalo’s above mentioned new direction, the Western New York Environmental Alliance offers the following key principles that should govern any Outer Harbor planning. The WNYEA’s Principles, derived from the expertise of the region’s environmental groups, ensure that the current process builds on previous planning efforts and creates an Outer Harbor designed for our region’s bright future.

Principle 1:  The City’s Waterfront belongs to the people and should therefore be owned by the public, guaranteeing accessibility.

Our water and the land that borders it belong to all of us.  Under the public trust doctrine, our water and the land that surrounds it must be preserved for public use, and our respective governments are required to maintain it for this purpose.   The air, water and habitat should be protected now and for future generations.

  • Therefore:  The land itself should remain in the public’s hands in perpetuity and should never be sold.  Any use that is deemed appropriate can be managed within the legal frame of a lease.
  • Therefore:  The land to the south of the mouth of the Buffalo River, north of the City of Buffalo border and west of Fuhrmann Boulevard should remain publicly accessible in perpetuity with appropriate protections for buffer zones, habitat areas and ecological corridors.
  • Therefore:  The Outer Harbor lands must be planned in the context of the entire City and region.  The WNYEA supports a more comprehensive planning structure that looks at the larger waterfront including, but not limited to: Erie Basin Marina, the Inner Harbor, the Buffalo River, the DL&W Terminal and all of the lands adjacent to the newly improved Ohio Street.

Principle 2:  Outer Harbor land use decisions and development should support a “Regenerative Landscape” and a Great Lakes System.

The lands and water of the Outer Harbor area are a rich and thriving ecological system that we are dependent upon.  They are not ‘empty,’ ‘vacant’ or ‘open.’ In fact this land acts as a critical buffer zone to Lake Erie.  The Outer Harbor is a key asset in adaptation to the current and future challenges of climate change.  A “Regenerative Landscape” builds on the existing living, productive and working ecological system, maximizes environmental services in terms of filtering and cleaning water and air, and moreover requires the least maintenance of landscape types.

  • Therefore:  Protect and encourage the ongoing regeneration of the landscape and its diverse habitats, both in water and on land.  This protection includes: no destruction through new buildings or permanent structures, accessible but directed circulation in the environments, interpretation and appreciation of the landscapes and planting of successional native vegetation. More habitat is needed for aquatic, bird and pollinator wildlife designated by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as Species in Greatest Conservation Need.

Principle 3:  Any permanent development must occur within existing building footprints (Terminal A&B and the Connecting Terminal Grain Elevator).

There should be no new construction on the Outer Harbor. Development of building sites and permanent structures on Buffalo’s waterfront should meet the prudent triple bottom line-making sense economically, socially and ecologically.  Any private investment should be directed within the framework of smart growth and should not generate urban sprawl.  As REDC Co-Chair Howard Zemsky recently stated, “We don’t need to create a second downtown on the Outer Harbor.”  Given the requirement for fiscal responsibility, it is clear that residential development on the Outer Harbor is not an appropriate or sustainable use of the City’s landscape. We should not commit future public dollars to unsustainable services and maintenance.

  • Therefore:  Finish key infrastructure and development downtown and do not replicate this kind of development on the Outer Harbor.  There are ample sites for this type of development elsewhere, such as:  Erie Canal Harbor (Canalside), Erie Basin Marina, DL&W Terminal, the lands adjacent to the reconstructed Ohio Street and other sites.  This development will create more dense and walkable neighborhoods with shared services and community life.
  • Therefore:  Consider the Outer Harbor as a three season venue and focus four season opportunities on the Inner Harbor. This strategy is consistent with the character of the two landscapes and emphasizes the different kinds of urban life available in the City and region.  The downtown sites are serviced, sheltered and protected; the Outer Harbor is exposed during the winter and inhospitable for most people except hardy ice fishermen/women, birders and others who want to test themselves against the elements.  Having this kind of diversity adds to the quality of life in the City.
  • Therefore: Consider seasonal structures for water dependent recreational uses with a ‘lighter, quicker, cheaper’ strategy, located such where they would not impair critical habitat or promote use during non-migratory seasons.

Principle 4:  Create an Outer Harbor that is Uniquely Buffalo

Most citizens of this region want a waterfront that is uniquely Buffalo, not a copy of waterfront development from other different cities. The success of Erie Canal Harbor (Canalside) is a fantastic example of what is possible when we do this.  We have enormously rich resources – we are on Lake Erie which is a part of the largest body of fresh water in the world – a body of water endangered.  We are an Important Bird Area of worldwide significance; we are a prolific spawning area for fish.  We should not trade these unique features to develop our waterfront in the form of a cookie cutter approach that will not instill pride and uniqueness in our citizenry.

  • Therefore: Base all program and design decisions on the unique land that is the Outer Harbor, its location at the east end of Lake Erie and its distance from the core of the City.
  • Therefore: Maintain and advance the public’s access and ownership of the land.
  • Therefore: Preserve, protect and advance the existing and emerging habitat on Outer Harbor, its air, land and water. In particular this means protecting the Times Beach and Niagara River “Globally Significant Important Bird Areas,” Tifft Nature Preserve, Times Beach Nature Preserve and the Bell Slip restoration.
  • Therefore: Limit any building to renovation of existing structures.
  • Therefore: Consider the Outer Harbor a predominately three season venue.
  • Therefore: Promote water based transportation options during accessible months.

Would you like to support these principles? Sign our petition.

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4 Responses to Principles for Outer Harbor Evolution

  1. Gerry Rising says:

    This is an excellent contribution to our thinking about the waterfront and development along Lake Erie. It deserves wide dissemination. Thank you very much for preparing this document. Now, of course, the problem is getting these concepts into the thinking of and action by our politicians before developers circumvent them and ruin this valuable property.

  2. David Stout says:

    Under Principle 2, Environmental Service available, the fact remains that this is one of the most windy areas in the USA with available FREE Energy to be captured and any plan should carefully site wind electric generators in the area to help the economics of the City and power current energy uses of the City like drinking water pumping, sewer system treatment, and light rail transit system.

    Under Principle 3, Transportation Service, Extending the Rail Transit System to the area from the Base of Main Street with turning bridges for transit and public bike-observation space and using one lane of the current NYS Route 5 and continuing to the existing bikeway at the Gateway Building opposite the Ford Plant should be included as a prudent climate change controlling measure. The repurposing of NY Route 5 is part of the Erie-Niagara Planning currently being created. Of course this section of light rail should be electrified using wind energy substantially reducing its continuing cost into the future.

    • John Szalasny says:

      I agree with David Stout that under principle 2, with a windy site, lets make the wind work for us. Horizontal wind turbines can be functional and decorative, and the power generated can help fund the maintenance of the outer harbor parks. Interpretive uses of wind and other renewable power sources can make this a drawing card, bringing tourism dollars to Western New York.

      However, I disagree with the extension of light-rail to the outer harbor. If we are to expand the light rail system, it should be through corridors that will pass a cost-benefit analysis – either to the North Campus (remember, it was originally designed as a transport between the UB Main Street campus and the downtown campus which got moved to Amherst) or to the airport (maybe through Riverbend). Extending the light rail along the outer harbor would create a transport system to nowhere – no businesses, no population centers – and would not have a chance for federal or state funding.

  3. Pingback: Support the WNYEA’s Vision for the Outer Harbor | GO Bike Buffalo

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