$5M Outer Harbor plan gets airing

Jan 17, 2018

Some $5 million is expected to start flowing around Memorial Day into a major expansion of activities on Buffalo's Outer Harbor. However, the major discussion in two meetings Tuesday revolved around a plan for mountain biking trails.

The package unveiled to the Common Council Legislation Committee and the city Planning Board Tuesday covers everything from butterfly habitats to tree planting to a Great Lawn for events. It also includes substantial space for mountain biking - and that drew a lot of fire, as well as a lot of support, before the Legislation Committee.

Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation Vice President Steve Ranalli said the trails are for active use all year long.

"We have the 1.25 miles of single-use dirt trails being installed for active recreational uses, including mountain biking in the summer, show-shoeing activities in the winter, for year-round use," Ranalli said. "We also have an activity zone, located at the front of the property. It will be slightly shielded here, with a berm from the waterfront side."

Supporters said mountain biking is a family-friendly activity with lots of participants, while opponents said it detracts from general use of the entire Outer Harbor and should be somewhere else - anywhere else, because it is not water-related and activities should be water-related.

The mountain biking was developed by bikers and the ECHDC during meetings over the last two years, including the Western New York Mountain Biking Association. Member Jim Allen said it is not just for them.

"A place where kids and families can go and ride their bicycles in a a safe, off-road environment, free from encroaching traffic," said Allen, "and this is not going to be a facility that's dedicated solely for mountain bikes. It's something that we stressed to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation from the beginning, that we wanted this to be a multi-use facility."

Officials estimate it would take a year to complete the $5 million plan. However, this time, planning for the Outer Harbor has been fairly low key - to the point there was some criticism that there had not been enough public outreach.
"By the time you bring them to us, it looks like a lot of decisions are made and I think that the publicity for the meeting that comes the day before if people have to get out of work early or want to be here and they find out the day before, that doesn't work," said Mary Lou Dietrich. "But when these things are being planned, why doesn't the public know about it ahead of time?"

The Planning Board recommended approval to the Common Council. The Legislation Committee sent it on without recommendation, probably to be discussed at the pre-Council session caucus on Tuesday.