[Update: At its February 8, 2021 public meeting, the City Planning Board “tabled” the application of RCR Yachts, Inc., to rezone 9 & 11 City Ship Canal – the site of RCR’s marina and boat sales, storage an dockage business – from N-3E to D-IL. In response to questions from Planning Director Nadine Marrero, RCR agreed to the tabling of its requested zoning map amendment while it seeks variances on February 17, 2021 from the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals. RCR’s pending application at the ZBA requests area variances from N-3E’s building setback and transparency requirements to allow construction of a 4,300-square-foot boat storage and display building. At the 2/8/2021 meeting, the Planning Board did approve, with no substantive discussion, RCR’s Coastal Consistency Application. Note: Don’t quote me, but I presume that RCR’s rezoning application will not be considered at the Common Council’s February 9, 2021 Legislation Committee.]
An application currently pending at Buffalo City Hall to rezone a 14-acre site at 9 & 11 City Ship Canal has highlighted an issue that I believe needs to be addressed by Buffalo’s legislative body: The Common Council must comprehensively consider and publicly express its long-term vision for the Outer Harbor, with and without the Skyway.
By necessity, the Common Council’s analysis should include reconsideration of what I believe is an arbitrary limitation in the UDO/Green Code’s definition of the “Outer Harbor boundaries.” As currently delineated, the “Outer Harbor Review Area” [OHRA] abruptly ends at the southern boundary of the former NFTA Terminal buildings. As a result, the current zoning/development ordinance precludes from the protections provided by the OHRA standards all the shoreline properties extending southerly from the former Freezer Queen site (where the 23-story Queen City Landing tower was proposed) to the Lackawanna city line.
The rezoning application for 9 & 11 City Ship Canal was filed by RCR Yachts, Inc. , which describes itself as “an active business providing sales, storage, dockage and service to the recreational community on the waterfront.” RCR seeks to alter the property’s zoning classification from N-3E (Mixed-Use Edge) to D-IL (Light Industrial).
The D-IL zoning district allows “by right” many uses and activities not permitted in the N-3E zone, including solar farm, major utilities facility, light and heavy industrial use, heliport, freight and passenger terminals, drive-thru facility, and outdoor amusement facility. While pondering this list, note that the subject parcel is located along the west shore of the City Ship Canal, to the east and in close proximity to Outer Harbor land and shoreline zoned D-OG (Green) and D-ON (Natural), and “developed” as open space, park, and ecologically sensitive preserves. [RCR’s zoning application refers to the Outer Harbor parcels as “undeveloped green space and then Lake Erie.”] Only Fuhrmann Blvd. separates RCR’s 14-acre property from the D-OG and D-ON zones.
RCR’s N-3E property is part of the narrow strip of beige-colored land running north-to-south in this zoning map excerpt:
The need for a clear understanding of the Common Council’s vision for the Outer Harbor is underscored by the criteria the Common Council (as well as the City Planning Board, in its advisory capacity) is obliged to consider when presented with a request to amend the UDO/Green Code’s zoning map. Those approval standards include whether the proposed rezoning “corrects an error” or “reflects a change in policy” by the Common Council, whether the proposed zoning map amendment is “compatible with existing form, pattern, use and zoning of nearby property,” and whether the proposed rezoning is “consistent with the trend of development, if any, in the general area of the property.”
The Planning Board’s February 8, 2021 agenda includes its consideration of the proposed rezoning of 9 & 11 City Ship Canal. That issue is also on the February 9, 2021 agenda of the Common Council’s Legislation Committee. I am not certain when the rezoning application will be back before the entire Common Council for a vote, but I assume it will be soon. I am inserting below an email message that I sent on February 6, 2021 to the City Planning Board (by way of the Planning Director, Nadine Marrero), and to each of the nine Common Council Members. I’ll include the email addresses, and urge you to contact the City of Buffalo decision-makers if the issue raised in either this posting or my email correspondence are important to you.
With All Due Respect,
From: “Arthur Giacalone”
To: “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”, “email@example.com”, “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Sent: Saturday February 6 2021 11:12:58AM
Subject: Deny Rezoning of 9-11 City Ship Canal from N-3E to D-IL
Dear Common Council Members and Planning Board Members:
I request that this correspondence be made a part of the record of the Planning Board’s February 8, 2021 meeting, the Legislation Committee’s February 9, 2021 meeting, and any future Common Council meeting where the rezoning of 9 & 11 City Ship Canal is under consideration.
For the following reasons, I respectfully ask that the City Planning Board and Common Council Legislation Committee recommend against the application to rezone 9 & 11 City Ship Canal from N-3E to D-IL, and that the Common Council disapprove the application when the matter comes before it for a vote:
First, it would be shortsighted to make any decision to rezone the 14-acre subject parcel – or any land in the Outer Harbor area in the vicinity of the Skyway – unless and until plans for the Skyway’s removal or alteration are finalized. The presence, absence, or alteration of the Skyway would not only have a significant impact on the 9 & 11 City Ship Canal property, it would also determine the most appropriate future activities on the subject parcel and Outer Harbor lands and shoreline to the west of the site.
Second, the decision to approve or disapprove the requested rezoning must be preceded by a clear understanding of the Common Council’s vision for the Outer Harbor as a whole, and, in particular, the land in the vicinity of 9 & 11 City Ship Canal. The members of the Planning Board and Common Council cannot protect the best interests of the City as a whole – in contrast to the narrow interests of the rezoning applicant – unless and until the following questions are answered:
(a) What was the Common Council’s reasoning when enacting the UDO and classifying the subject parcel and the land directly to its north as N-3E?
(b) Has the Common Council concluded that either it was a mistake to place the narrow strip of land along the western edge of the City Ship Canal in the 3-NE district, or that recent and anticipated future development in the vicinity of the subject parcel and Outer Harbor area calls for a change in policy?
Third, the proposed rezoning to D-IL is inconsistent with the trend of “development” – and, the increasingly popular goal of retaining as much of the Outer Harbor as parkland and open space – in the general area of the property in question, especially to the northwest, west, and southwest of the site.
Fourth, no matter what the applicant expresses as its current plans, the rezoning from N-3E to D-IL would mean that the following uses, which are not allowed in N-3E, and are incompatible with the existing form, pattern, use, and zoning of nearby property, would be:
(a) Permissible “by right” in the D-IL zone: solar farm; major utilities facility; light and heavy industrial; freight terminal; heliport; railway facilities; passenger terminal; tobacco/hookah/vaping establishment; outdoor amusement facility; drive-thru facility; and, heavy retail and service; and
(b) Permissible with a Special Use Permit in the D-IL zone: wind farm; gas station (due to C-W); car wash (due to C-W); halfway house; helistop.
Fifth, pursuant to Chapter 12.1 (Noncomformities) of the UDO, the current uses and structure(s) at 9 & 11 City Ship Canal are legal and may continue, unless the use is discontinued for one year. Furthermore, the rights conferred under the UDO “run with the property and not not affected by changes in tenancy or ownership.” Therefore, the N-3E zoning status does not place an undue burden on the applicant.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of these comments.
Arthur J. Giacalone
17 Oschawa Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14210
Art Giacalone makes a good point asking the Buffalo Common Council and the Planning Board not to grant RCR’s request to rezone its property on the City Ship Canal classification from N-3E (Mixed-Use Edge) to D-IL (Light Industrial). The D-IL designation would allow many uses of the property that do not fit with the natural character of much of the rest of the outer harbor.
See Art’s article below