Grand Island needs a plan

Dear Islanders;

Buffalo was down, but now it is bouncing back! That has made many hungry developers eager to sink their teeth into Grand Island. We need to be careful. We need to keep Grand Island green and beautiful. We need a Master Plan to stop bad growth.

Buffalo was great

Location is everything in real estate, and Buffalo had maybe the best location of all. It was the stopping point for all the raw materials that came from the American heartland across its vast inland seas, the Great Lakes. Here we processed ore and preserved grain for construction and consumption in east coast mega cities, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. And here we took some of what those places processed further to send back west. Buffalo was the crossroads. Buffalo was the hub.  

If you have ever been to Buffalo City Hall you may have noticed in the dim light of the lobby that the walls are covered in colorful murals featuring muscular figures, like something you would find at the Vatican. At the center of one mural (titled, “Talents Diversified Find Vent in Myriad Form”) sits a goddess, which represents Buffalo itself. Her head is crowned in a sunburst and she is covered in overflowing golden fruit. Across the way, another female goddess (labeled peace) balances two male warriors representing Canada and the United States. Under this image are the words “frontiers unfettered by any frowning fortress,” a reference to the near endless reach of the city. These images represent the glory of Buffalo in its prime.

When the paint was still drying on this work, Newsweek breathlessly praised Buffalo as America’s “Inland Empire of the Sea.” People were all betting on an even more glorious future for city. Legendary entrepreneur Seymour Knox, who once owned the Sabres, said around that same time, “We are at the edge of the beginning, the real beginning, for Buffalo.” There were predictions that hundreds of millions of people would live here. Arts and culture flourished. So, what went wrong?

Buffalo’s ideal location, became nonessential

Long story short, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Welland Canal happened. You could bypass Buffalo and go right around the falls. There was no need for its train tracks heading east or even the Erie Canal. What was the doorway to new frontiers, became a dead end. For certain, the emerging threats of rising foreign economies didn’t help either. Neither did all of the many leadership blunders our region has endured, like putting the University in the suburbs to putting dangerous factories along the waterfront. But regardless of the precise reasons for the city’s demise, it became frail and sick quickly. The canal became no more than the murky refuge of pleasure boats and our central train terminal a haunted relic.

But as the song goes, “Everything dies, baby that’s a fact. But maybe everything that dies one day comes back. . . “

Buffalo is rising

Buffalo, bit by bit, is coming back. It will never be some megalopolis like New York City. There will never be hundreds of millions of people here. But let me tell you, that’s a good thing. Because what Buffalo still has today is what it had all those years ago. It’s still a great spot.

We are surrounded by water. We are surrounded by space. And the perks of our thriving past have left great cultural assets (food, music, theater) that few cities of our size have, and which are once again thriving. I can be in an apple orchard in the country and be at Kleinhan’s Music Hall or a Buffalo Sabres game in the city 20 minutes later. There are not many places where you can enjoy the best of both worlds so easily. Try visiting one of the modern southern capitals deprived of all their charm by smog, congestion, and crowds to realize what others have lost and what Buffalo still has. Our era of decline has allowed us to dodge the era of sprawl. Today Buffalo has what so many people crave: livability, affordability, beauty.

And so people, (like me), are coming back. They want a house, and a dog, and maybe even a boat. And the Queen City is once again looking ever more regal. And although that’s a good thing in many ways, it has had and will continue to have consequences for Grand Island.

Developers are here and are coming

It’s getting more expensive to build, (and live), in Buffalo. And people are starting to figure out that Grand Island is not that far away from Buffalo (or Niagara Falls). And it’s a whole lot more fun to live here. Think about it. Do you ever take walking down by the river for granted? It still takes my breath away every time I go for a run—even though, until next year, I still need to dodge cars. 

There are a few large developments that were put into motion and approved long before I came into office by the previous Supervisor and Town Board. We are finally seeing the final phases of construction of these projects that started years ago. And more developers have visited me over the last year asking questions and chatting me up while drooling over maps and blueprints. To some pitching apartments, I have been less than hospitable.

Here is a little synopsis of the three major projects happening right now that were long in the works and we can’t stop. 

Heron Pointe Project – across from Dunkin’ Donuts

9 eight-unit buildings are currently under construction. 4 eight-unit buildings should be ready to occupy by the end of the year. The second 26-unit building was started last week, plus a rec center. This means hundreds of new units will soon be complete and occupied.

Gun Creek (Whitehaven Rd.)

Phase 1 plan shows 19 Single Family Lots with multiple phases planned.  Road and utilities being installed at this time. 

Elderwood Independent Living Facility (Grand Island Blvd.-North of Bedell Rd.)

3 new buildings – all three stories, one with 54 units, one with 16 units and a rec center and one with 30 units are all on their way.

Proverbs says, “without a plan, the people shall perish”

Let me say very clearly; I do not want any more apartment complexes. Further, Grand Island should never become Amherst light. What I mean is that I’m against big box stores here too. Sorry, but you can get that stuff anywhere. I want Grand Island to stay a unique, small town forever. Yes, I want to enhance our standard of living through recreational development, local agriculture, and eco-tourism. And I will support projects that make sense to achieve those goals. But the building of endless new apartment complexes (like some local leaders have wanted and encouraged) is not a solution; it’s a problem.

Frankly, even if there was some advantage to endless development, our infrastructure (or lack thereof) cannot accommodate large-scale growth, not to mention our schools being able to accommodate flocks of more kids. After all, we are an Island. But until we have an updated Master Plan—which re-thinks previous zoning mistakes—we will legally have little power to stop or control development. Do you know that previously the Town’s zoning laws were changed to encourage apartments at the center of town and along our waterfront?

In 2017, we will complete the Master.

Yes, we need a plan. A Master Plan is not about encouraging growth. It’s about controlling it. It’s about preserving our forests and understanding our assets and our needs. Finally, it’s about preventing outside developers from making a buck building horrible developments that will fade, which we do not need—and then running off to their next victim. We are now diligently working on such a plan. We have not had an updated one in years. And our lack of legal protection is what led to the bulldozer invasion.

I address this now, because I want you to understand what a Master Plan is for when we bring it forward in 2017. The Master Plan is not Nate’s plan to turn Grand Island into something it is not. The Master Plan is something we are creating to preserve and enhance what Grand Island IS, and should always remain: a beautiful, unique, small town. 

With great regards,