Click on the photo if you’d like to enlarge it.
With All Due Respect,
[Note: This posting is the third in a three-part series regarding the development of cannabis cultivation facilities in Buffalo, NY, and will discuss how SEQRA provides the investigatory tools to assist Buffalo’s Commo Council in assessing the potential environmental impacts of a marijuana grow facility. The first post, titled “South Buffalo Cannabis Facility is not in the Public Interest, ” provides my concerns regarding a marijuana cultivation-processing-shipping facility proposed in 2019 for the southern end of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor by Zephyr Partners (and, that is expected to be resurrected now that NYS has an adult-use marijuana law). The second, “Buffalo’s Green Code Prohibits Cannabis Cultivation Facilities,” explains how I reached the conclusion that the City of Buffalo’s zoning ordinance does NOT currently permit a cannabis “grow” facility within its borders.]
Zephyr Partners applied in early 2019 to rezone about 15 acres of land at the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park [BLCP] in South Buffalo as part of its larger plan for a 47-acre, 1.375 million square-foot cannabis cultivation, processing, and shipping facility a short distance from the Lake Erie shoreline. The developer proposed rezoning four parcels from D-C Flex Commercial to D-IL Light Industrial.
I do not doubt the good intentions of the Common Council or its staff when they reviewed the proposed project two years ago and attempted to assess its potential environmental impacts. But, I assume that no one involved in the review is an environmental scientist, licensed engineer, or architect. In effect, this complex and critical task – concerning what is for Buffalo a new and unregulated industry – with a proverbial mask over their eyes and arm tied behind their backs. In essence, the scope of the environmental review was defined by Wendel, the engineering and architectural firm hired by Zephyr, and virtually all of the information the Common Council and its staff relied upon when assessing potential impacts came from the folks least likely to be objective and totally forthcoming, the project sponsor’s consultants.
Without adequate tools, the Common Council members unanimously adopted, a “Determination of Non-Significance” or “Negative Declaration” under the State Environmental Quality Review Act [SEQRA]. That document, which was approved on May 14, 2019, declared that the proposed 1.375 million-square-foot cannabis cultivation facility “will not have an adverse impact on the quality of the environment,” and ended environmental review by concluding that “a Draft Environmental Impact Statement [DEIS] will not be prepared.”
Buffalo’s legislative body did not take the next step one would normally expect, that is, vote on whether to approve or disapprove Zephyr’s rezoning request. For reasons not revealed in the City’s accessible records, the approval process came to a halt. Importantly, the fact that the zoning map amendment was not approved provides the City of Buffalo with the chance for a do-over. If and when Zephyr reinstates its rezoning request, the SEQRA regulations empower the “lead agency” – the Common Council – to rescind the March 2019 Negative Declaration based on “new information” or “changes in circumstances.” [See 6 NYCRR 617.7(f).] The Common Council can then fully fulfill its role as stewards of the air, water, land and living resources, and meet its obligation to protect the environment for the use and enjoyment of this and all future generations by issuing a Positive Declaration and requiring the project sponsor to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Here are principles and factors I urge Buffalo’s legislative body to keep in mind if and when the recent enactment of New York’s Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) motivates Zephyr Partners to revive its dormant rezoning request:
1. There is a presumption under SEQRA that the proposed facility – a “Type 1 action” – “is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment and may require a DEIS” (Draft Environmental Impact Statement). [See 6 NYCRR 617.4(a)(1).] Zephyr’s massive cannabis cultivation/processing/shipping facility does not just barely meet SEQRA’s thresholds for a “Type 1 action.” It obliterates those standards:
(a) The proposed 1,375,000 square-foot facility is nearly six times the footprint of the 240,000 square feet of gross floor area for non-residential construction that triggers SEQRA’s Type 1 status in a city the size of Buffalo. [Zephyr’s March 5, 2019 letter of intent does not mention this category of Type 1 actions.]
(b) The plan to physically disturb 47.6 acres of the site is nearly five tines SEQRA’s 10-acre threshold for a Type 1 action.
Additionally, the fact alone that the proposed cannabis facility is “substantially contiguous to any publicly owned or operated parkland, recreation area or designated open space” – that is, immediately abuts the Ship Canal Commons – makes it a Type 1 action carrying with it the presumption that it is likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment. [Zephyr’s March 5, 2019 letter of intent also does not mention this category of Type 1 actions.]
2. The obligation of a lead agency to issue a Positive Declaration and require the project sponsor to prepare a DEIS is triggered by “a relatively low threshold” – that is, the DEIS is needed if the action MAY have a significant effect on any one or more aspects of the environment. [See 6 NYCRR 617.7(a)(1), 617.1(c).] Under SEQRA, the Common Council has the obligation – as “stewards of the air, water, land and living resources” – to not shy away from requiring a DEIS, and to not rationalize why a Negative Declaration should be issued. SEQRA mandates that a Positive Declaration be issued whenever a proposed project may have a significant adverse impact on any aspect of the environment (including aesthetic resources or neighborhood character).
3. The Environmental Impact Statement is “the heart of SEQRA”. SEQRA has designed the Draft EIS and Final EIS process to ensure that the lead agency undertakes a full review of the adverse environmental effects of a project, provides the public with access to the review and the ability to assist the agency in the decision-making process, considers alternatives to the project, and carefully considers meaningful and practicable mitigation measures. [See, for example, Miller v. City of Lockport, 210 AD2d 955 (4th Dept. 1994).] It is an effective tool to help guarantee an informed decision whether to approve or deny a proposed action.
4. As lead agency, the Common Council has the authority under SEQRA to hire environmental, engineering, or planning consultants to review the project sponsor’s DEIS, and to charge the applicant a fee to recover the actual costs of that review. SEQRA anticipates that members of a lead agency often may lack the technical expertise needed to fully assess the potential impacts pf a proposed project. It is for that reason that the SEQRA regulations not only require a lead agency to inform other interested agencies of a proposed action and solicit their input, but also empowers the lead agency to hire consultants with the requisite expertise, and to pass on the expense to the project sponsor. [See 6 NYCRR 617.13(a), (c).]
Application of these principles to Zephyr Partners’ proposed facility demonstrates the important role of the DEIS process. Here are several examples:
As noted in my April 6, 2021 post, Zephyr’s engineering consultant mentions in its Full Environmental Assessment Form [FEAF] that there are “odors associated with processing” cannabis – an accessory use at the site – but they say nothing about the strong skunk-like odor associated with the growth of the plant, the primary activity to be conducted 24/7 throughout the entire year. The pervasive and offensive nature of the odors resulting from marijuana cultivation (acknowledged by Public Health Ontario, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration industry, and even in the Cannabis Industry Times) mandates a “hard look” that goes beyond the self-serving, anecdotal, non-scientific claim in Zephyr’s supporting papers that a California marijuana facility where Chlorine Dioxide is used for odor mitigation reports no complaints. Given the fact that the City of Denver’s 2020 Best Management Practices guidelines (BMP) strongly recommend the use of carbon filtration, not ClO2, as the best odor-control technology for cannabis cultivation, the DEIS process would allow an assessment and comparison of alternative mitigation measures by experienced engineering professionals. This is especially needed given Zephyr’s plans to construct multiple “greenhouses” immediately adjacent to the walking/biking/nature trails of the Ship Canal Commons, and in close proximity to the existing companies at the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park( Sonwil Distribution, CertainTeed, and Cobey, Inc.).
B. Impacts on Aesthetic Resources, Parkland, and Existing Character.
As also noted in my April 6th posting, the proposed project is not an idyllic “pot farm.” Zephyr plans a massive industrial facility, with seven “high tech greenhouses” 30 feet tall, and ranging from 94,000 to 168,500 square feet in area. This project would not only reside across Tifft Street from the Tifft Nature Preserve, and be visible from the Seaway Trail (a national scenic by-way), its southern boundary would adjoin the Ship Canal Commons – a public park and nature trail. SEQRA considers a proposed project’s location that is “substantially contiguous” to a public park, recreation area, or open space, to be of such potential concern that it makes it a “Type 1 action” as long as it “exceeds 25 percent” of its designated Type 1 thresholds. The southernmost cannabis cultivation (“grow”) facility alone, at 94,080 square feet, is 50% larger than the 60,000-square-foot minimum needed to trigger the Type 1 status when a project is adjacent to a public park/recreation area/open space.
When the Common Council issued its March 2019 Negative Declaration, concluding that the proposed action would not have a significant adverse impact on aesthetic resources, open space or recreational resources, or existing neighborhood character, the determination of non-significance incorrectly stated that “properties that are industrial in nature border the new development on the south…” This characterization contrasts starkly with two descriptions of the adjacent Ship Canal Commons found at the website of Wendel, Zephyr’s engineering consultant: “a 22-acre interpretive greenspace” and “a pastoral passive activity space.” With the issuance of a Positive Declaration, the lead agency would be in a position to require the project sponsor to provide objective evidence of the potential impacts of 30-foot tall, 94,080-square-foot and larger greenhouses located immediately to the north of this 22-acre public park and open space. That evidence could include, for example, “view shed analysis” and computer-generated images. With such documentation, the Common Council and the public would be in a position to reach fully-informed conclusions regarding the project’s potential adverse impacts on aesthetics, parkland, and neighborhood character. [Click on an image to enlarge it.]
C. Impacts on Human Health.
The creation of a hazard to human health is one of the “indicators of adverse impacts on the environment” found in the SEQRA regulations. [See 6 NYCRR 617.7(1)(vii).] When addressing this criterion, both Zephyr’s 2019 submission in support of its rezoning request, and the Common Council’s Negative Declaration, are silent on the topic of worker health at a cannabis cultivation facility. However, had a Positive Declaration been issued in 2019, members of the public would have been in a position to advise Buffalo’s legislative body of an article prepared by the American Institute of Architects’ risk-management arm, AIA Trust, entitled, “Guide to Marijuana Facilities Design.” That document attributes to “grow facilities” temperature and humidity comparable to indoor swimming pool centers, conditions that expose employees to fungi and other undesirable results. Moreover, under the subheading, “Worker Safety,” the AIATrust article states: “At marijuana grow facilities, workers are also subject to chemical exposure from fertilizers and pesticides, from sulfur dioxide as a result of fumigation, and from carbon dioxide asphyxiation.” [See AIATrust Guide-Marijuana-Facilities-Design.]
Given Zephyr’s claim that its facility would ultimately employ 500 to 1,000 workers, the human health implications of the proposed cannabis cultivation complex is an important topic for consideration under SEQRA.
D. Conflict with Official Goals and Plans. There are a number of significant ways in which the proposed action contradicts the March 2019’s conclusions that the proposed action is “consistent with the current Land Use Plan and the goal of further developing the Industrial Park,” and “with the character of the neighborhood”:
(1) The zoning map adopted by the Common Council in December 2016 is nuanced. It places the land to the south of Laborers Way and immediately adjacent to the Ship Canal Commons – a public park zoned D-OG – in the less intrusive, less dense D-C Flex Commercial zone. The land to the north of Laborers Way is zoned D-IL. The proposed rezoning would do away with that rational distinction.
(2) The goal expressed by the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation when Laborers Way and surrounding infrastructure was completed was not merely to further develop the Industrial Park, but the specific goal of “attracting green companies to the City of Buffalo.” As addressed below in “Impacts on Energy,” a cannabis cultivation project is anything but “green.” Additionally, the BUDC divided the 47-acres adjoining Laborers Way into eight (8) medium-sized parcels, referred to as “Available Sites,” not one large assemblage serving one company.
(3) The proposed project, with 1,375,000 square feet of development on 47.6 acres, has a developed density of 28,888 square feet per acre. That proposed density is greatly out-of-character with the existing businesses at the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park: Sonwil Distributor consists of 300,000 square feet of structures on 52 acres, for a density of 5,769 square feet per acre; CertainTeed has 270,000 square feet on 25 acres, or 10,800 square feet per acre; and, Cobey’s building contains 90,000 square feet (which is a smaller footprint than Zephyr’s smallest greenhouses) on 12 acres, with a density of 7,500 square feet per acre.
(4) The adopted plans and maps envision the existence of a public right-of-way, Laborers Way (which was constructed with taxpayers’ money). Zephyr Partners’ plan eliminates Laborers Way.
E. Impacts on Energy.
Zephyr Partners states in its FEAF that its facility would generate an estimated annual demand of 25 MW of electricity. Currently the site uses none. When the infrastructure was installed (at taxpayer expense) for the portion of the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park where the proposed cannabis cultivation project would be located, the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation expressed its goal of “attracting green companies to the City of Buffalo.” According to Denver’s 2020 Best Management Practices guidelines, the cannabis cultivation industry is far from a “green” industry. It is a “resource intensive process,” largely due to energy demands for lighting, HVAC and dehumidification, which are a leading driver of greenhouse gas emissions, and result in the industry’s sizeable environmental footprint. The DEIS process would allow the gathering of objective data so that the Common Council can compare the proposed project’s impact on energy with that of “green companies.”
The above list of environmental concerns relating to cannabis cultivation facilities is not meant to be exhaustive. Nonetheless, as long as any of these areas of adverse environmental impacts “may” be considered significant, the Common Council is obligated under SEQRA to issue a Positive Declaration and require preparation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
With All Due Respect
[Note: This posting is the second in a three-part series regarding the development of cannabis cultivation facilities in Buffalo, NY. The first post, titled “South Buffalo Cannabis Facility is not in the Public Interest, ” provides my concerns regarding a marijuana cultivation-processing-shipping facility proposed in 2019 for the southern end of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor by Zephyr Partners (and, that is expected to be resurrected now that NYS has an adult-use marijuana law). Today I explain why I have reached the conclusion that the City of Buffalo’s zoning ordinance does NOT currently permit a cannabis “grow” facility within its borders.]
Zoning ordinances are an attempt by cities, villages and towns to protect and promote the public health, safety and welfare by establishing standards intended to ensure the orderly and compatible use of land. These local laws divide a municipality into geographical areas called zones or zoning districts, and spell out the uses, and scale of buildings and lots allowed in each zone. [For a basic overview of land use and zoning laws, see the citizen’s guide that I helped to write, published by Partnership for the Public Good, Buffalo, in December 2018: click here.]
The City of Buffalo’s zoning ordinance is officially called the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), and is unofficially known as the “Green Code.” It was adopted by the city’s legislative body, the Common Council, in late 2016, and went into effect in early 2017. The UDO contains twenty-two zones, and spells out the activities or uses that are allowed in each zone. The UDO/Green Code’s list of permitted uses is found at ”Table 6A, PRINCIPAL USES,” and identifies eighty-six (86) categories of uses, organized under eight (8) subheadings: Residential, Civic, Lodging, Retail & Service, Employment, Agriculture, Transportation, and Infrastructure.
[Click on an image to enlarge it.]
The term “principal use” refers to the main or primary use or uses conducted on a lot or within a building; in contrast, an “accessory use” is a use located on the same site as a principal use that is incidental or subordinate to the principal use. Buffalo’s zoning ordinance allows a site to have more than one principal use, as long as each principal use is permitted in the zone.
The UDO’s “Principal Uses ” table divides uses into two categories: “permitted uses,” which are uses permitted “by right” in the particular zone, that is, that are in compliance with the UDO and may be processed administratively by the city without the need for a public hearing; and, “special use” uses, which are activities considered to have increased potential for incompatibility in a zone, and, for that reason, require the approval of a “special use permit” by the Common Council – after a public hearing – before being allowed in the zone.
Under the UDO/Green Code, a land owner or developer who wishes to conduct an activity at a particular site needs to first identify the zone within which the site is located (by checking out the UDO/Green Code’s Citywide_Zoning_Map_January2017, or by going to the Property Information tab at the City’s website). If the use is listed as a “permitted use” on the UDO’s Table 6A, it is allowed “by right” in the zone. Additionally, if an activity is not included as a permitted use in any of the twenty-two zones, but the City’s “Zoning Administrator” concludes that it is “similar in nature and impact” to a use listed in Table 6A, the activity may be treated as a permitted use. On the other hand, “If a use is not listed and cannot be interpreted as similar in nature and impact to a use that is listed in Table 6A, the use is deemed prohibited.” [See, UDO, Section 6.1.1(B), (D) & (E).]
With this understanding of the UDO, we can apply these rules to Zephyr Partners’ March 2019 proposal for a cannabis cultivation project on eight parcels of land on Laborers Way in South Buffalo.
Zephyr’s design team provided the following “Project Description” in its March 5, 2019 correspondence to the Common Council:
The proposed action is to develop 1.375 million square feet of cannabis cultivation facilities along with processing, quality control, extraction, research, and shipping/ receiving facilities. The proposed development makes use of eight existing sites to the north and south of Laborers Way in the City of Buffalo (north of Union Ship Canal in the Lakeside Commerce Park). Roughly 65% of the built structures will house the growing facilities while the other 35% will house the accessory functions. Protected wetlands are immediately north of the site and the Union Ship Canal is to the south across a public park.
Four of the eight parcels – located on the north side of Laborers Way – are zoned “D-IL Light Industrial,” and total about 27 acres The four parcels on the south side of Laborers Way are in the “D-C Flex Commercial” zone, and comprise roughly 20.5 acres. With its March 5, 2019 submission, Zephyr asked the Common Council to rezone the four D-C Flex Commercial parcels to D-IL Light Industrial, claiming that their proposed cannabis production facility was permitted by right in the D-IL zone, and with a special use permit in the D-C zone.
I can find no evidence in the public record that City Hall administrators – or the Common Council – ever questioned the project sponsor’s assertion that a cannabis cultivation facility is a permitted use in the D-IL and D-C zones. As explained below, I have concluded that Zephyr’s assertion is incorrect. The growing or cultivation of marijuana envisioned by Zephyr – its principal use – neither fits into any listed permitted use in the D-C or D-IL zones (or, any of Buffalo’s 22 zones), nor can be reasonably treated as similar in nature and impact to a permitted use.
At first glance, the terminology used for two of the UDO/Green Code broad categories of “principal uses” – Agriculture and Employment – might appear as potential candidates for allowing marijuana cultivation activities. But the integrity of the zoning process mandates that the City’s zoning administrators look beyond Table 6A’s subheading when treating a proposed activity as a permitted use.
“Cannabis cultivation facility” is not expressly listed as a permitted activity in the UDO. That’s not a surprise given the illegality of cannabis usage by the general public when the Green Code was adopted in late 2016. Consistent with the urban character of the City of Buffalo, there are only two activities – and both limited in scope – permitted as an “Agriculture” use in the UDO: “Community Garden” and “Market Garden.” Neither category envisions a massive, for-profit, commercial farm within the city limits, and neither can be reasonably thought of as a commercial-scale marijuana “grow” facility. Here is what the Green Code provides:
A. Community Garden. A site where food, ornamental crops, or trees are grown for group, shareholder, or lessee use, or for donation.
1. Seed, fertilizer, and feed must be stored in sealed, rodent-proof containers.
2. No equipment, process, or other practice may be employed at a community garden that creates dust or odors detectable off the property, or any other effect determined by the Commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services to be detrimental to the public health, safety, or welfare.
B. Market Garden. A site where food, ornamental crops, or trees are grown for sale to the general public.
1. A special use permit for a market garden may be granted in an N-4-30 or N-4-50 zone only
if located east of Jefferson Avenue, south of Best Street/Walden Avenue, west of Bailey
Avenue, and north of Clinton Street.
2. Seed, fertilizer, and feed must be stored in sealed, rodent-proof containers.
3. No equipment, process, or other practice may be employed at a market garden that
creates dust or odors detectable off the property, or any other effect determined by
the Commissioner of Permit and Inspection Services to be detrimental to the public
health, safety, or welfare.
4. Agricultural products, plants, eggs, and honey grown or produced on or within the
subject property or within the City of Buffalo may be sold on the premises if the market
garden use is the only use of the subject property or occupies at least 50% of the area
of the property. In addition, foods prepared on site or off site may be sold if the principal
ingredients are grown or produced on the subject property or within the City of Buffalo.
5. On-site sales within an N-2R, N-3R, N-4-30, or N-4-50 zone must comply with the following:
a. No structure or building except for a maximum of one market stand may be
used to sell produce or other goods. b. On-site
The massive quantity of marijuana Zephyr plans to grow at the South Buffalo site certainly is not the “food, ornamental crops, or trees” envisioned in the UDO’s description of “Community Garden.” And, under New York’s newly enacted adult-use marijuana law – the Cannabis/Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA) – licensed growers and processors are prohibited from owning retail stores that sell their product directly to the consumer. In light of MRTA’s restrictions, one could not logically treat the proposed cannabis growing facility as a site selling its crop to the general public.
Given the pervasive skunk-like odors associated with cannabis crops, and the energy-intensive nature of the business (see the discussion and links in “South Buffalo Cannabis Facility is not in the Public Interest”), it would be arbitrary and irrational to interpret cannabis cultivation operations as similar in nature and impact to either a community garden or market garden.
While a cannabis grow facility will generate jobs, it is not an activity that falls within the uses in the UDO/Green Code’s “Employment” category. None of the Employment listed uses involve the growing of crops. And, as the following description of “Industrial, Light” demonstrates, a non-manufacturing activity such as the growing of crops was not what the Common Council considered “light industrial” when the UDO was enacted:
While the various “accessory functions” included in Zephyr Partners’ project description – processing, quality control, extraction, research, and shipping/receiving facilities – may be permitted uses in the D-IL and D-C zones, the proposed “primary use” – over 800,000 square feet of marijuana cultivation facilities – is neither listed as a permitted use or special use in any of the Green Code’s 22 zoning districts, nor can be reasonably treated as similar in nature and impact to a permitted use.
To quote UDO Section 6.1.1(D)(2), “If a use is not listed and cannot be interpreted as similar in nature and impact to a use that is listed in Table 6A, the use is deemed prohibited.”
With All Due Respect
[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: “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”, “email@example.com”
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
Mayor Byron W. Brown issued a July 16, 2020 press release in which His Honor cautions City of Buffalo residents of the continued dangers we face regarding the coronavirus:
COVID-19 remains a threat to our community and we cannot afford to let our guard down at this time. We must remain vigilant and continue to take the necessary precautions to maintain public health and safety. Please continue to practice physical distancing and wear face coverings when going out.
The Mayor followed that plea with a press conference July 24th announcing “an innovative and safe dining experience initiative that will enable restaurants to offer outdoor dining services to patrons” on a stretch of Chippewa Avenue. We were told that each of the 10 or so participating eating-and-drinking establishments “will safely operate while practicing New York State social distance guidelines and requirements.” Not only have their plans been reviewed by Mayor Brown’s Small Business Social Distancing Advisory Committee (SBDAC), but, as reported by WBFO, Mayor Brown said it’s important for patrons and proprietors to understand – this is not meant to be a block party: “This isn’t to allow mass gatherings on Chippewa. This is to allow more room to socially distance.”
No, the block party – where, it appears, you can get away with not wearing a face covering and adhering to social distancing and other health guidelines intended to slow the virus spread – was occurring on July 24th and 25th several miles away in South Buffalo’s Cazenovia Park.
While bicycling through my neighborhood park at 8 PM on the Friday the 24th I observed at least 60 or 70 Pints-In-The-Park attendees, many of whom were not following the posted (and, by now, well known) Covid-19 protocols. I saw a similar scene at 6 PM on Saturday. Here’s a sampling:
I have since confirmed that the City of Buffalo had issued a permit to (a rather aptly-named) Resurgence Brewing Company to host pop-up beer gardens – with the cutesy moniker, Pints-In-The-Park. Here’s how the events are described at Resurgence’s facebook page:
All Pints in the Park events will be held in Olmsted Parks with a portion of proceeds going toward the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Bring your own blankets and chairs and your mask for when you are up and walking around. We’ll provide the beer. Feel free to bring your own food as well. Bring the family, bring the dog and have a Pint, with us, in beautiful Cazenovia Park. We’ll be located next to the casino.
I found the city’s willingness to use our city park’s for this sort of commercial endeavor distasteful last year when I first became aware of it occurring in Caz Park. And, frankly, I was even more offended at that time when I realized Buffalo Olmsted Park Conservancy’s involvement – tacitly, or otherwise – in the endeavor.
But I find the concept of a pop-up beer garden in our public park’s even more problematic in the summer of 2020. It is hypocritical, at best, for Mayor Brown’s administration to issue public statements urging the public, on the one hand, ”not to let our guard down” and to “remain vigilant” to the threat of Covid-19, while it allows residents to gather in Cazenovia Park in large numbers and hold a pint of beer, in the other hand, without ensuring enforcement of our state’s social distancing guidelines and requirements.
I know that my sentiment will not be universally popular. But, nonetheless, I want to provide this shoutout to my friends and colleagues in North Buffalo:
THE RESURGENCE BREWING COMPANY’S PINTS-IN-THE-PARK SUMMER TOUR IS SCHEDULED TO POP-UP IN DELAWARE PARK ON AUGUST 7 & 8.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. Concerns have been raised for months that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in skyrocketing alcohol sales, and has raised concerns regarding substance abuse. See, for example, this.]
Here we are. Mid-May, longing to spend time outdoors, and dealing with snowflakes and overnight temperatures at or below freezing.
Perhaps our situation wouldn’t feel quite so uninspiring if we had experienced a more interesting winter. But WINTER – the season that helped put Buffalo on the national map back in 1977 with the infamous Blizzard of ’77 and record annual snowfall of 199.4 inches – has been overwhelmingly dull this past season (with a few exceptions along the Queen City’s waterfront). So I thought I would dig down (shovel?) into my photographic archives and share to two rather extreme and eerily beautiful winter experiences in our not too distant past.
January 2018 Cazenovia Creek ice floes
The casually serene elements of Cazenovia Park – reflected, I hope, in last week’s posting and photos – were transformed into a wintry moonscape in late January 2018. A prolonged period of frigid temperatures and snow falls created thick, extensive sheets of ice on Cazenovia Creek (and, elsewhere). The ice floes eventually were pushed over the creek’s banks, leaving behind an intense scene (which fascinated the winter walkers, such as myself, and must have confounded the park’s leashed canines). Here’s a sampling:
Snovember 2014 – East Aurora endures 90″ of snow in three days
Between the late evening of November 17th and the early morning of November 20, 2014, life for the Giacalone/Clarke family on Knox Road in the Village of East Aurora revolved around one activity: shoveling and moving approximately seven-and-a-half feet of snow from our 80-foot long driveway. Although there were Western New York naysayers who refused to believe the figures, a Syracuse-area publication, supported (I hope) by the pictures that follow, reported that the village of 6,000 people southeast of Buffalo indeed received 90.5 inches of snow (that’s 7.5 feet!) that week. Not that we could venture off our property. Traveling was banned. Even huge snow-removal trucks had difficulty driving down Knox Road. But we knew that failure to keep up with the snowy onslaught would make vehicular liberation nearly impossible once life started to return to normal.
The entire family joined in the task. I was not quite 65 at the time, youthful enough to handle the hard work, yet old enough to understand the wisdom of pacing myself. My slender-but-game 14-year-old son James, my seventeen-year-old daughter Lissa (who sat out the first two days of snow removal after suffering a mild concussion in gym class on November 17), and their long-suffering mother, all did their part.
Here are images from my former residence that memorable week of self-isolation, physical exertion, and wonder:
OK. Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I’m ready for a refreshing spring and mild summer.
Be well. Be safe. Be productive.
With All Due Respect,
I hope my various photo “tours” the past 4 or 5 weeks have brought some distraction and enjoyment into the lives of those of you who may be spending more time at home than you’re used to. [To exercise my brain and test my memory, I’m going to try to list my posts (in no particular order): Buffalo-Erie County’s botanical gardens (I was scolded for originally referring to this wonderful place as “South Buffalo’s”); the Seneca-Iroquois national museum in Salamanca; WNY clouds; Rochester’s Lilac Festival 2019; Beaver Meadow nature preserve; and, the one I, frankly, didn’t initially remember, Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.]
This time, I’ve decided to look for the lovely, serene, or just interesting (at least, to me) right in my own neighborhood (which, fortunately, includes Cazenovia Park, one of Buffalo’s Olmsted jewels). My home, built in 1910, is on Oschawa Avenue, a one-block long street that awkwardly straddles the Buffalo-West Seneca border. I’m just two doors down from Indian Church Road.
I headed out for a walk early on Sunday morning, May 3rd, with my smart phone in my pocket (it usually remains behind on my desk). I was pleased that this lovely sight greeted me when I reached Indian Church Road:
As I headed the four blocks down Indian Church toward Seneca Street, a number of spring time images caught my eye:
But, as always, it was Cazenovia Park that captured my imagination.
And, in case you’d like to hear the rushing waters of Cazenovia Creek, here’s a short video:
It was time for me to head home. Hopefully, you enjoyed these images from my Sunday morning stroll (prior to the arrival of restless Buffalonians, donned with masks and exhibiting various efforts to maintain social distancing). Please let me know if you’re inspired to head out your front door in search of what’s inspiring in your neck-of-the-woods.
With All Due Respect,
As a “non-essential” and semi-retired 70-year-old, I’m self-isolating these days at my 110-year-old home in South Buffalo, around the corner from Indian Church Road. I’ve lived here for nearly five years on a one-tenth acre plot of land that was, until the so-called Treaty of 1842, part of the Seneca Nation of Indians’ Buffalo Creek Reservation.
1979 Map of reservation land
From Abstract of Title for 17 Oschawa Ave., Buffalo, NY
While the circumstances that brought me to Oschawa Avenue were not joyful, there’s been an unexpected silver lining. I’ve taken small steps to learn about the culture and history of the indigenous peoples who lived throughout this region long before the Europeans arrived on the shores of what is now called North America. As part of that nascent process, I drove to Salamanca, New York on August 4, 2018, to attend the festive grand opening of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum. [If interested in my posting regarding that visit, click here.]
Wanting the opportunity to experience this living, breathing cultural center – located at 82 W. Hetzel Street, Salamanca, NY 14779 – on a quiet day, I returned to the museum on a weekday afternoon this past September. I’d like to share with you images from that excursion to help you past the time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, of equal importance, to motivate as many of you as possible to travel to Salamanca – once we’re liberated from our crucial self-isolation – to thoroughly explore the history and culture of the Keepers of the Western Door, the People of the Great Hill. What follows will merely skim the surface.
This tour starts with several images (by Bill Crouse, Seneca Nation, Hawk Clan) from the museum’s exhibit, “Ganö:nyök” (Giving Thanks for Everything), with occasional text to help one better understand the symbols. [For the entire “Thanksgiving Address,” please peruse “Ganö:nyök – Thanksgiving Address” , with words by Sandra Jimerson-Dowdy and illustrations by her son, the afore-mentioned Bill Crouse.]
The cultural center has a plethora of Seneca-Iroquois crafts and artistry on display. Here’s a sampling:
Not surprisingly, the walls overflow with information on the significant role of creation myths, clans, and both historical and contemporary figures and events (uplifting and heartbreaking).
The 8 Seneca Clans:
MARY JEMISON [who was once buried on sacred land in what is now called the Seneca Indian Park on Buffum Street, a block-and-a-half from my South Buffalo home]:
The KINZUA DAMN Travesty (excerpts):
With the positive expression, “Continuing To Be,” I’ll bring my amateurish-but-heartfelt tour to an end, hoping that it has whetted your appetite for the full experience at the Salamanca, NY museum and cultural center.
With All Due Respect,
The lawyering side of my multi-fractured personality has spent much too much time of late howling at the moon and tilting at windmills. So, having dispatched my latest professional task via USPS late Saturday morning, I walked to my neighborhood Olmsted Park – South Buffalo’s Cazenovia Park – on a sunny and brisk March afternoon with my aging iPhone inconspicuously resting in my front pocket. I tried for a few minutes, but I couldn’t resist the urge to engage in a photo shoot that has been on my mind the past couple of weeks, something I considered calling “Barking up the RIGHT tree in Caz Park.”
I realize that this collection of images may not be for everyone, but I’m taking the risk of sharing it nonetheless in hopes that some of you might enjoy it. Here it is:
With All Due Respect,
P.S. Here’s a bonus photo, taken in 2005, of a tree that caught my eye in a fairly well-known Olmsted Park in NYC: