New ECHDC Plan for the South End of the Outer Harbor
New ECHDC Plan for the South End of the Outer Harbor

GreenWatch: Big Outer Harbor News

by / Jan. 14, 2018 12pm EST

This coming Tuesday, 16 January, 2018 the Buffalo Common Council Legislative Committee and the City of Buffalo Planning Board will hold seperate Public Hearings on a signficant new plan for the southern end of the Buffalo Outer Harbor. The plan has been created by a consultant team, Trowbridge, Wolfe, Michaels,  Landscape Architects for the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC)

The Common Council Legislaton Committee meeting is at 2pm in the Buffalo Common Council Chambers Click Here for Agenda.

The Planning Board meeting is at 4pm on the Office of Strategic Planning Conference Room on the 9th floor. Click Here for Agenda.

The proposed project is a new design for the Southern end of ECHDC owned property on the Outer Harbor. The parcel lies to the south of the Bell Slip and stretches to the parking lot at between Terminal’s A &B. (Near the Flatman sculpture)

The project involves new trail construction, habitat improvements, and increased public access opportunities.  It also includes a significant “urban bike park.” which includes 1.75 miles of dedicated bike trail. Initially, this facility was described as a “Mountain Bike Trail” and was to be located in the sand barren habitat just north of the Bell Slip.  Citizen activists decried the potential destruction of this fragile habitat which contains rare native plants, pollinators, and birds and urged the ECHDC to move the “Mountain Bike Trail” to another location. Many Outer Harbor users were concerned that a large portion of the Outer Harbor, using public money, and  dedicated to a Mountain Bike Trail would service a limted user base.  The ECHDC responded by meeting with stakeholders, moving the bike facility to the new location, and repurposing it as a “Urban Bike Park” with a number of features that would attract a broader portion of the recreational biking community.

For more details on the plan, click on the links below.

Public Hearing — Special Use — 901 Fuhrmann
  7. 18-49  S. Ranalli, Agent, Special Use-Outer Harbor (901 Furhmann) to Create Bike Park in D-OG/N-1S Zone (Sou)(Hrg 1/16)
    document Agenda Item Printout
    a. s rinali spec use 1-01042018162003
    b. s rinali spec use 2-01042018162127


You may remember that the original plans promoted by the ECHDC for the Outer Harbor included privatizing much of the area from the Times Beach Nature Preserve to Terminals A&B. this included a massive effort to build condo and gated communities in Wilkeson Pointe Park, on the NYPA property across from Times Beach Nature Preserve, and throughout much of the other Outer Harbor area including the Michigan Ave Pier and the Seaway Piers site to the Bell Slip.

There was a terrific public outcry including supporters of the nature preserve and supporters of promoting broader public use of public owned lands. At the time, the State was poised to spend millions of public dollars to provide shovel ready sites and tax abatements to private developers.

Activist led campaigns promoted targeting downtown Buffalo and properties across the Buffalo River to create urban density, while leaving the Outer Harbor green and open.  GreenWatch argued that creating sprawl on the Outer Harbor was an expensive and unsustainable option. Instead we argued,  creating and protecting public spaces including natural conservation areas and public recreational areas would improve the quality of life for all residents and would make more people want to live and work in our region.  We argued that an improved tax base from downtown density would pay for the great resource that we could uniquely create on the Outer Harbor.

The Our Outer Harbor Coalition, a group that was formed two years ago to champion the voice of the public regarding state plans to develop the Outer Harbor is pleased with the new plan.

They have issued the following statement:

Our Outer Harbor Coalition Special Statement on Proposed South End Plan
January 16, 2018

The Our Outer Harbor Coalition has been meeting with the ECHDC and the consultants (Trowbridge, Wolf, Michaels Landscape Architects) on the development of this plan.
We note that this plan moves the previously announced “Mountain BIke Trail” out of the fragile Bell Slip/Seaway Piers habitat, and to the South Side of the Bell Slip. It also rebrands the trail as an Urban Bike Park. We believe that this will open up the user base to a broader public biking community, an important user group of Outer Harbor recreational facilities.

The new plan also envisions something of a permanent “festival grounds” associated with existing traffic and parking infrastructure affiliated with Terminals A & B. Eventually the plan seeks to move festivals and events away from the Seaway Piers area and into a more accessible and less fragile site. This will improve access, lessen congestion, and help to conserve natural features.
We thank the ECHDC for the progress made to date and for incorporating many of our recommendations into the current plan, including moving and redefining the Bike Park out of the re-naturalizing Bell Slip area; removing the Visitors Center from the Bell Slip Area; adding habitat restoration elements; shifting festivals to this portion of the Outer Harbor; repurposing one of the terminal buildings; and protecting the public from contamination.

Overall, the Our Outer Harbor Coalition approves this plan with the following caveats:

  • -The Outer Harbor needs a Master Plan. We have made this point at all previous meetings and in written comments. Development in the Outer harbor needs to be guided by a master plan. It should include the following basic set of 10 principles (adopted unanimously by the Coalition 10/4/2017):
  1. -Retain public ownership of public lands
  2. -Be truly public—not exclusive of some publics
  3. -Be water based or water dependent
  4. -Protect and restore natural environments and habitats
  5. -Avoid sprawl (not divert resources from the City proper)
  6. -Be consistent with City policies including Green Code, Comprehensive Plan and LWRP
  7. -Promote health, physical activity, access to the natural world
  8. -Be based on a transparent and democratic process
  9. -Be sustainable, based on conserving our natural and cultural heritage
  10. -Be climate smart, based on a clear assessment of risk and resilience factors in the Outer Harbor
  • -We will ask the ECHDC to create a committee, or include members of the Our Outer Harbor Coalition, in discussions moving forward on the single track bike trail. Many members are concerned that the Bike Park is too large compared to the need for soft walking trails, and has potential to expose people to contaminants in the soil. We are opposed to the tunnel for pedestrians and wish to have access to the top of the tower for views.  New public amenities should be consistent with the above 10 principles. Some specific points:
  • -Can the area and extent of the Bike Park footprint be smaller? Perhaps ⅓ as specialized use and ⅔ as general public use to safely accommodate walkers, wheelchairs, bikes, etc.
  • -Can the multi-purpose bike trail be expanded and also go through wooded areas?
  • -Can some of those paths be permeable surface and narrower ‘walking trails’ rather than bike trails, again, open to more diverse populations, bird watching, and quiet sitting?
  • -Is it possible to have a conversation about possible points of conflict? We have already mentioned our concern about putting people through the tunnel and bikes going over (please reverse), but there are other points where someone might stray into a fast bike area on foot unwittingly.  We would appreciate reviewing these with ECHDC, designers and bikers to develop ideas to mitigate.
  • -At some point in the future we will ask the ECHDC to create a committee including members of the Our Outer Harbor coalition, to consider alternatives for Terminal A. Considerations include reuse of this facility to support festivals, parking, bathrooms, existing access to the Outer Harbor, and to be consistent with the above 10 principles. 
  • -Finally, we agreed to submit comments to the Common Council either at the public hearing in Council Chambers, City Hall at 2 PM on January 16, or in writing, or both. These comments will be tailored to the priorities of each specific group but can also reinforce any of the above points on behalf of the Outer Harbor coalition.