Let me be totally frank with you.
I certainly don’t have the financial resources to invest in a major development proposal, especially one of Gerry Buchheit’s glitzy “vanity projects” on Buffalo’s waterfront. And, let’s face it, if he’s willing to characterize me as “an obstructionist … [who] objects to everything” when talking to a Buffalo News reporter, he’s unlikely to ask me to join him in a business venture.
And, I’ve never run for elected office in the City of Buffalo, much less been honored by its citizens with a position on the Common Council, so I won’t be voting on the latest version of Queen City Landing at the former site of the Freezer Queen plant.
And, at this stage in my life, I’d much rather bicycle the four miles from my South Buffalo home to the Outer Harbor to take photos of its beauty than to live there.
Nonetheless, as a public service, I do have some opinions to share.
I would not invest in Queen City Landing’s 20-story tower proposal because:
No. 1: Gerry Buchheit has a history of promising the moon, and then, not long thereafter, moving on to a different concept when unanticipated problems arise or a new idea attracts his attention.
The 20-story tower project submitted to Buffalo City Hall in mid-November 2019 is, by my count, the sixth different proposal Mr. Buchheit has presented for the Outer Harbor parcel that he purchased in 2007. [Here’s a chronology cobbled together from various media reports: Buchheit-QCL Chronology 12-17-19.]
Gerry’s plans have included a $300 million office/retail/hotel project in 2010 that he boasted “would put Buffalo on the map,” a $40 – 60 million conversion of the then-existing Freezer Queen building into 120 luxury apartments that he proclaimed in 2015 would be “the best of the best,” and a $60 – 80 million, 23-story tower (with an adjacent 3-story parking garage), approved by City Hall in 2017, that Gerry said was part of his effort “to put Western New York, especially Buffalo, back on the map, as it used to be.”
[Note: Mr. Buchheit’s history of proposing projects and then abandoning them may be unrivaled, even if one chooses to disregard his “ambitious plan” in 2002 (when his casino development group, Northstar Development Corp., owned the Statler Towers) to convert the Convention Center and the first two floors of the Statler Towers to casino space, construct a parking tower, and develop an entertainment/restaurant/retail complex stretching along the block between Delaware Avenue and Franklin Street.]
Buchheit’s 2008 proposal.
Buchheit’s 2015 proposal.
Buchheit’s 2016 proposal.
Buchheit’s 2019 proposal.
No. 2: Buchheit’s geotechnical consultant’s 2016 report raises the potential for excessive post-construction settlement at the site, resulting from soft and loose subsurface conditions, the tower’s heavy foundation load, and the need to significantly raise site grades to address flooding issues.
I’m not an engineer. But, the detailed characterization of the soil, sub-surface conditions, bedrock and groundwater conditions present at the Queen City Landing site, as described in the May 2016 report by Buchheit’s geotechnical consultants, and a number of the conclusions expressed in that report, convince me that there are substantial risks and the potential for unanticipated expenses for any project of the scale and intensity of the QCL proposal. [A summary of facts and conclusions from that geotechnical report that I found most worrisome are included in my October 30, 2017 post.]
No. 3: Damaging storms along Buffalo’s Lake Erie shoreline in 2019 portend an increased frequency and severity of such events, creating a precarious location for 200+ residential units and a variety of commercial enterprises.
Buffalo’s extensive shoreline saw more than its share of severe and damaging storms in 2019, experiencing menacing weather in late February, and twice during the week of October 27th.
According to the headline for a December 15, 2019 Buffalo News article, “At least $10M needed to fix Bird Island Pier, breakwall after October storms.” As explained in that report by Deidre Williams, “The breakwall – which is 2,200 feet long and is on the north end of the Outer Harbor near the U.S. Coast Guard station – is designed to prevent waves from crashing into the shoreline and flooding Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park – formerly LaSalle Park – and parts of downtown Buffalo.”
Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, including Buchheit’s 20-acre parcel at 975/1005 Fuhrmann Blvd., was hit extremely hard during the week of October 28. OUR OUTER HARBOR – a group of organizations and individuals concerned about the appropriate development of the Outer Harbor – has concluded that a “climate emergency” exists along this vulnerable section of the Lake Erie shoreline:
“Two extremely powerful October storms created significant seiches and hit Buffalo’s Outer Harbor during the Week of October 28 – November 1 2019. The second was more powerful than the first with wind gusts of up to 70 mph and a seiche that approached 12 feet on the Outer Harbor. Combined with historic high-water levels on Lake Erie, the storm slammed into the coast line, overtopping and damaging areas including Gallagher Beach, Buffalo Harbor State Park, the proposed Queen City Landing development site, and Times Beach Nature Preserve. Governor Cuomo has declared a State of Emergency and FEMA resources are being considered for relief of damaged breakwalls, piers, and other infrastructure. Climate change and human development are affecting the livability of Great Lakes cities and Buffalo, is a primary target for increased damages due to severe weather and high-water conditions. It is time to recognize that the Buffalo Outer Harbor is a “barrier island’ that protects the city. Parkland, developed along this coastline will ensure both public accessibility during the good times and public safety in the bad.” [Emphasis added.]
I would not vote to approve Queen City Landing’s latest iteration, or to rezone the site to create a Planned Unit Development (PUD) district, for a variety of reasons, including:
No. 4: The future of this site should be determined by the vision of the Common Council as expressed in the Green Code/UDO, not by a fickle developer.
As I wrote in greater detail in a December 9, 2019 post, Gerry Buchheit’s failure to obtain a building permit and begin construction of the 23-story tower plan approved in early January 2017 invalidates the design and site plan approval for that project, and subjects both his 2017 plan and his latest 20-story tower proposal to the requirements and standards of the Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO), informally known as the “Green Code.”
Under the Green Code, the Queen City Landing site is zoned “N-1S.” A “tower” is not a permitted building type in N-1S districts, and the maximum stories and building height allowed in N-1S districts are 6 stories, and 90 feet, respectively. The drastic contrast between Mr. Buchheit’s two most-recent proposals for the former Freezer Queen site and the standards set forth in the Green Code for the N-1S district can be seen in this chart: Chart Comparing QCL 2017 v. 2019 v. UDO.
No. 5: Rezoning of 975/1005 Fuhrmann Blvd. must be consistent with the City of Buffalo’s “comprehensive plan” as expressed in the Green Code/UDO, must be intended to promote the general welfare (not to benefit the owner of the property), and must be responsive to changed conditions in the community.
It would be unlawful for the Common Council to rezone the QCL parcel to allow a development that is not consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, and is not calculated to benefit the entire community. By enacting the Green Code/UDO in late December 2016/early January 2017, our elected officials expressed the community’s plan for development for the QCL site.
Buchheit’s 20-story tower proposal is not in accordance with that plan, and is intended to benefit the property’s owner, not the wider community. Additionally, the only pertinent change in the community – an increased awareness of the frequency and severity of significant weather events, and the need to protect and preserve ecological diversity and resiliency – require a decrease in the intensity of development in the Outer Harbor, not the construction of a building of substantially greater mass and scale than envisioned in the Green Code.
No. 6: Buchheit’s proposed 20-story tower cannot be reconciled with the goals for the Outer Harbor in the draft LWRP embraced in 2016 by the Common Council: protecting the scenic quality of the coastal area; enhancing the enjoyment and appreciation of visitors to the Outer Harbor’s parks, marina, walkways and nature preserves; preserving and improving state- and locally-designated natural habitats; and, avoiding disruption of bird migration “to the maximum extent practicable.”
It is impossible to reconcile the vision for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor embraced by the LWRP with the plan proposed by Queen City Landing, LLC, and Gerry Buchheit, Jr. For example, the mass and scale of Buchheit’s 20-story tower contradicts a critical policy in the draft LWRP, protection of the overall scenic quality of Buffalo’s coastal area, including unique waterfront landscapes such as marinas, piers, wharfs and mooring areas, waterfront sunsets, and the Great Lakes Seaway Trail Scenic Byway. [Here’s the entire draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Program: LWRP.]
No. 7: The Queen City Landing project would impede the goal of a creating a world-class state park encompassing the vast majority of the Outer Harbor.
Construction of Gerry Buchheit’s latest proposal for 975/1005 Fuhrmann Blvd. – with its 470,444-square-foot tower, 206 residential units, parking for 570 vehicles, etc. – would constitute a substantial impediment to the long-term goal of making most of the Outer Harbor a State Park. [See the plan announced in September 2019 by Partnership for the Public Good.] Expanding the existing state park at the Outer Harbor would further many important goals, including: protecting important, fragile natural and historic assets; providing prime locations for fishing, sailing, hiking, birding and other recreation accessible to city residents; and, connect with Niagara River Greenway and Empire State Trail.
And here’s why I would not want to live in Mr. Buchheit’s 20-story tower:
No. 8: It is not only cold and windy for many months of the year at the Outer Harbor, residents would not have easy access to food markets, stores and services, employment opportunities, or a variety of urban conveniences we take for granted in a neighborhood setting.
Anyone accustomed to life in an urban neighborhood – conveniently walking or bicycling to nearby destinations – would find himself or herself incredibly restricted at the Queen City Landing site. If you have the need for a residence with an expansive view of Lake Erie, you might be better off waiting for the Seneca One tower to offer apartment and condominium units. At least then you’d have downtown Buffalo at your front door.
No. 9: Closure of the Skyway due to weather conditions, while inconvenient for commuters, could pose a substantial health and safety risk for Queen City Landing residents.
As Western New Yorkers know, closure of the Skyway due to wind and snow storms is not uncommon. Access to and from Fuhrmann Boulevard becomes a significant challenge for emergency vehicles. And, most problematic of all, during extreme weather events where evacuation may be necessary, the Skyway cannot be relied upon as an evacuation route.
No. 10: Migratory bird species are attracted to large lighted buildings during their nocturnal migration, resulting in large numbers of deaths, and QCL’s proposed 20-story tower would be located in the “Niagara River Globally Significant Important Bird Area” in close proximity to two important state-designated bird and wildlife habitat areas – Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature Preserve.
Sorry to be gruesome, but locating Mr. Buchheit’s 20-story tower in the Niagara River Globally Significant Important Bird Area would almost certainly lead to a high number of collisions of migrating birds with the QCL building. As observed in a research article by Scott R. Loss, a scientist at the Migratory Bird Center, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.:
(1) Migratory species are attracted to large lighted buildings during their nocturnal migration; this attraction causes a large amount of mortality at low-rises and high-rises as birds either immediately collide with lighted buildings or become entrapped before later dying of collision or exhaustion.
(2) Hundreds to greater than one thousand birds per year have been found at intensively monitored buildings in or near areas with a high concentration of birds during migration. [See S.R. Loss research article – published Jan. 2014.]
It is not far-fetched to suggest the possibility that residents of the proposed Queen City Landing tower could wake up one morning to the “soul-crushing scene” experienced by workers at a 23-story tower in Galveston, TX, as they arrived on May 4, 2017 “to find nearly 400 dead or dying birds lying lifeless on the ground.” As reported by Houston TV station KHOU:
“The Houston Audubon Society says the bird kill was likely caused by a combination of bad weather and bright lights. They believe Wednesday night’s storms caused the flock to fly lower to the ground and they say bright office lights attract birds which can cause them to crash into buildings.”
So now you have the first ten reasons that I would not want to invest in, vote for, or reside at Buchheit’s 20-story tower.
With All Due Respect,