Developer is man with a plan

By SKEETER TOWER

Imagine a team of experts from every field related to city planning and improved use of land, volunteering to come to the city of Dunkirk free of charge to share its informed critique of any section of our city that we ourselves choose.

Would you pinch yourself just to make sure you were not dreaming? Think of the many times you have heard comments like “Why is our potentially beautiful waterfront sitting nearly empty? or “What can we do to provide jobs, keep our elders and offer a future for our children right here?”

Are we ready to hear the best and the worst about our city and issues related to Western New York by informed Western New Yorkers? We have proven that when motivated we can turn out a huge crowd to speak up for an issue vital to our future like Repowering Dunkirk. Do we care enough about Dunkirk and the surrounding region to turn out again to share our own visions, listen to new possibilities and strategies and commit to becoming involved citizens to make the necessary changes across our entire living environment spectrum?

It is not a dream. George Grasser, executive director of Partners for a Livable Western New York, based in Buffalo has agreed to come on the morning of Sept. 28 with a team experienced in analyzing neighborhoods in the region. Members of the team expected to participate include architects, planners, real estate lawyers, transportation engineers, city planners, developers, and citizens who have been active in improving the land use and environment of their own communities.

The team will meet with residents and city officials, and whoever shows up to create a vision of a thriving, attractive, Dunkirk. Are we up to the challenge? Can we rouse ourselves on a Saturday morning, meet with this team over coffee and bagels and become engaged with new hope and a realistic, inspirational vision and blueprint?

City officials have chosen the waterfront as the section of the city to walk around for this professional feedback. The morning will evolve in three segments. First, will be an introduction and listening session to hear from us local folk about our vision, our frustrations, the problems and the successes.

About an hour will be spent walking the designated area. Finally, back as a group, we will hear a verbal assessment and ideas from the team and have a dialogue with the team. The time commitment is roughly four hours.

Partners for a Livable Western New York formed in 1999 to bring about more livable communities through smart growth concepts and practices. The organization works to support regional and local policies and regulations to “promote cohesive neighborhood development through stabilization of existing neighborhoods, preservation of environmentally sensitive areas, municipal coordination and effective implemention of land use policies and practices. The group serves as a center for education about resources, policies, land use problems and solutions to concerned citizens and public officials.

The Dunkirk walk will be the group’s 26th neighborhood walk. These walks originate with a request from a citizen group or a public official. The idea for a walk in Dunkirk started with brainstorming in Academy Heights and Washington PARC neighborhoods and was readily adopted by city officials.

Partners for Livable Western New York’s previous walk locations have included seven Buffalo neighborhoods and the downtown areas of Tonawanda, Lockport, Niagara Falls and the villages of Hamburg, Orchard Park, Lancaster, Williamsville, Blasdell, Alden, Youngstown and Geneseo. Several of the walks have precipitated actions that have improved the neighborhoods and the economic vitality of business districts. The group is especially proud of its involvement in the revitalization of the village of Hamburg. This effort has been cited as a model for village centers all over the eastern U.S. because of local government initiated streetscapes, zoning code and design code improvements.

Those familiar with this recently redesigned village can attest to its healthy growth and economy.

On Aug. 16, The New York Times reported about the revitalization of Hamburg.

The article begins “How did this Rust Belt village of 10,000 people resurrect itself from a 30-year slide?”

The village chose not to expand Main Street (Route 62) but instead opted for a pedestrian-friendly design.

Results speak to the success. According to the article, over the past four years, business owners along Main Street spent a total of $7 million on 33 building projects. The number of building permits rose from 15 in 2005 to 96 in 2010 and property values along the street more than doubled over the same period. In 2012, the village’s Main Street was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which brought tax incentives that villagers hope will lead to still more development.

“This is about quality of place, which is about the quality of life” Paul Becker, Hamburg’s special projects coordinator is quoted as saying. The reporter’s interviews on the streets of this village confirmed the satisfaction of residents. People cited factors such as better traffic movement, more customers for the businesses, more pedestrians enjoying the quality of life there, and the area being handicapped accessible. Flowers and landscaping makes the area very attractive.

Partners for a Livable Western New York has also sponsored a series of smart growth educational programs for local residents in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Perhaps if there is sufficient interest and enthusiasm, we could have a series here in the Dunkirk-Fredonia area.

Grasser retired after a 35-year statewide practice as a real estate development attorney. He has been recognized by many state, local and regional organizations for his efforts to improve government operations, land use and the built environment.

He was instrumental in bringing the Congress for New Urbanism “CNU”, the leading national organization promoting walkable, mixed use neighborhood development to Buffalo for its 2014 Congress. Some 2000 architects, planners, transportation and housing experts, public officials and community leaders from around the world are expected to attend the event from June 4 to June 11 with tours and supplemental education programs being held on June 2,3, and 12. People can listen to these professionals and engage with people from other places who have the same concerns about making their communities more livable and more economically viable.

Grasser believes local communities are not taking demographics into account in their zoning and planning practices. He points out that even though less than one in four American households consists of a husband and wife and one or more children; many young people and many older people want to live in places where they do not have to drive so much; and we have an aging population, many communities continue to encourage only spread out single-family detached home developments with overly-wide streets and overly large lots. He believes many downsizing seniors and young professionals would prefer to live in compact neighborhoods with narrow streets, sidewalks and walkable destinations. He is disappointed that many communities are not doing enough to keep senior citizens in their homes or in their communities, especially because seniors do not have any children using the school system. Often, seniors who are financially able, choose to move out of the community.

We have before us the opportunity to tap into the knowledge, experience and research of a team of willing volunteers who are committed to the revival of our region.

It makes sense to take advantage of the offer from Partners for a Livable Western New York and to listen to what they see as possibilities for Dunkirk. Save Saturday Sept 28 on your calendar. The event will be at the SUNY incubator at 8:30 a.m. Coffee and bagels will be served, compliments of the social action committee of The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua.If turnout exeeds space at the incubator, the feedback session will be in the Community Room at the Steger Apartments.