Planning Board Hears Canal Side Details

The Buffalo Planning Board was provided with an overview of Canal Side General Project Plan and associated design guidelines that will apply to future development in the inner harbor area on Tuesday. The presentation was given by consultants retained by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC). No official Planning Board action was required.

Canal Side is expected to contain one million square feet of commercial, cultural, and residential space on 20 acres of land at the foot of Main Street. The “preferred alternative” calls for 277,250 square feet of retail space; 173,750 square feet of restaurant and entertainment space; approximately 293,600 square feet of office space; approximately 215 residences; two hotels with a total of 250 rooms; and, 20,000 square feet of cultural space.

Stan Eckstut, Senior Principal of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut Kuhn Architects and master architect for Canal Side, provided a twenty minute overview of the project. A set of design guidelines has been prepared to merge the public and private spaces into a coherent whole. The Buffalo Planning Board will have a role in ensuring development adheres to the guidelines.

The intent of the design guidelines is to foster the formation of active, visually-interesting spaces with high-quality materials and contemporary techniques that connect to the unique history of the Project Area and Buffalo as a whole. A prime focus of the guidelines is on the pedestrian to provide a human-scaled setting with good way finding and a comfortable walking environment. The guidelines will also address sustainability as the ECHDC is aiming for a LEED-certified development.
Moreover, the design guidelines are also intended to create visual interest from near and far. Up close, ground level design features should produce comfortable, inviting, and stimulating environments. From afar, a variable skyline of roof edges, vertical shafts, massing, and signage will create visual interest.

Standards concerning such features as use, curb cuts, circulation, fenestration, materials, color, scale, lighting, and signage are proposed. At full build-out, the project will have the appearance of a variety of buildings and spaces that have been built over time, by different owners and designers. Bulk controls for buildings will provide continuity at the scale of the block and respond to the heights of existing site conditions such as the heights of the HSBC Arena, Marine Drive Apartments, and the Skyway.

The Planning Board and a Canal Side Design Committee will assist the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation Board of Directors with the adoption and implementation of the guidelines. Their role is to help ensure that the guidelines and all development at Canal Side promote a cohesive atmosphere that is inspired by the architecture of Buffalo’s historic canal district.

“Every plan will be reviewed by the Buffalo Planning Board for consistency with the design guidelines,” says Adam S. Walters, an attorney with Phillips Lytle specializing in environmental and land use and zoning law. According to Walters, plans for the Bass Pro anchor store will be the first Canal Side component to be reviewed by the Planning Board in coming months.

Comments on the General Project Plan and design guidelines will be accepted by ECHDC through February 26. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, January 26th at the Albright Knox Art Gallery. It begins at 6 PM.

After the public comment period, the project plan and design guidelines are expected to be adopted by ECHDC and Empire State Development in March. The environmental review for the project is in its “final stages” says Walters. A supplemental study to address Marine Drive Apartment residents’ concerns over traffic, noise, air quality and visual impacts from a proposed new parking ramp is in draft form.

Canal Side would incorporate a phased, market-based build out. Assuming that appropriate funding would be available and that there would not be any unanticipated delays, the initial phase would be largely completed by Memorial Day 2011.

Buffalo Rising, January 13, 2010