Smart Growth in Village Centers: Tonight

Tonight (Wednesday January 22nd) at the Williamsville South High School Auditorium, (Main near Youngs) join a conversation to discuss “smart growth in village centers”. Discussing how WNY villages are models for sustainable suburban development will be John Norquist, the President of the Congress for New Urbanism, Paul Beyer, the New York State director of Smart Growth, and Brian Kulpa, the Mayor of Williamsville

In light of the recent announcement from Congressman Brian Higgins’ office directing that $3 million in federal highway funding be added to $1 million from the Village of Williamsville to reconfigure Main Street to make it  work better for both pedestrians and vehicle traffic, this will be an interesting and important discussion. The recent improvements in the villages of Hamburg and Orchard Park also serve as reminders that compact, walkable commercial neighborhoods go well with suburban living.

Good News Everywhere

The Ford Stamping plant is adding 350 jobs and a 3rd shift to help feed parts to nearby Canadian Ford factories that are being crushed by demand for Ford’s excellent new lineup of cars. (Now imagine if Ford didn’t have to be in the business of providing health insurance for their employees and could just concentrate on hiring the best people to produce its cars, and if people had the freedom to apply for those jobs without regard to health benefits. That’s how it is in Canada, and that’s why Canada is attractive to manufacturers like Ford, Toyota, Honda, and GM. A 2002 analysis found that the labor cost to automakers in the US came out to $45.00/hour; in Canada, with its socialized medicine and all, the rate was closer to $30.00/hour). 

Governor Cuomo has been in WNY practically every two weeks ever since the locals decided that the NY SAFE Act was a horrible affront to 2nd Amendment rights because every American has the right to have an arsenal powerful enough to defeat the most expensive and powerful military in the world. Or something. 

Yesterday, he came to town to announce $225 million project to create a green energy campus at the site of a barren brownfield in Buffalo. Two companies are being attracted from California to develop and produce energy-efficient LED lighting and solar panels. The state is developing the property and buying the companies some machinery, and the companies will be hiring hundreds of locals for well-paying jobs and investing $1.5 billion in the move. Tax breaks are expected to attract even more businesses and jobs to the new green campus. 

Jim Heaney’s Investigative Post analyzes the deal, and declares it to be “progress”, although not a “game changer”. However, one selling point is that it may lead to 5,000 new, well-paying jobs over the next decade. Not a bad day, even if it’s only half as successful as that. 


Collins’ Food Stamp Cuts and Welfare for Billionaires

In September, Representative Chris Collins voted to cut $40 billion from the American food stamp program, which helps to feed underprivileged and poor Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House legislation would deny benefits to 3.8 million Americans next year and save $39 billion over 10 years, or roughly 5 percent of the SNAP program’s cost in that time. Enrollment doubled to 47 million in the wake of the Great Recession as incomes plummeted and more Americans qualified for benefits, which average $133 per month. Most beneficiaries are children, elderly or disabled.

Buffalo’s Delaware North is estimated to earn about $2.6 billion this year. The Buffalo News writes that Delaware North is looking to move its downtown Buffalo headquarters a few blocks over

Delaware North is asking for an exemption of $807,000 in sales tax for building materials, but it has been questioned by some critics because Delaware North is a global company with $2.6 billion in revenues. However, Richard M. Tobe, deputy county executive and chairman of the ECIDA’s Policy Committee, noted Thursday that the request is consistent with what ECIDA typically approves.

But the larger plan has faced heavy opposition because of the unusual nature of the tax assistance that Uniland, in particular, is seeking. Besides sales and mortgage tax breaks, the developer proposes paying full property taxes but diverting a significant portion of them to finance a five-level parking ramp and then getting reimbursed by the state because Uniland says the property qualifies for special brownfields credits.

Mayor Byron Brown and Representative Chris Collins wrote a letter together, urging the Erie County IDA to hook Delaware North up with some tax breaks: 

Byron Brown’s and Chris Collins’ letter to the Erie County IDA


So, Chris Collins opposes feeding the poor, but supports tax subsidies for billionaires to relocate to a new building a few blocks away, under threat of departure. 

Frankly, I think it would be tragic to lose Delaware North, but the chutzpah here is unbelievable. He’ll shut down the government to make sure you can’t get affordable, quality health insurance and then pretend he didn’t do just that. He’ll take food from the hands of the underprivileged and poor to help subsidize a billionaire. 

$807,000 is 0.031% of what Delaware North pulls in per year. These tea party princesses all think that charity should replace welfare. Maybe Collins can cover this out of his own pocket. 

Bashar al-Issa Convicted of Tax Fraud in the UK

From the Glasgow Daily Record, we learn that,

LOOSE Women star Andrea McLean was offered a big movie break – and became an unwitting pawn in a multi-million tax scam.

The Scots former weathergirl was cast as a bisexual therapist in gritty gangster film A Landscape of Lies.

But she was unaware the production – which also featured equally unsuspecting former EastEnder Marc Bannerman – was being hastily shot to get the taxman off the conmen producers’ trail.

The fraudsters, fronted by redheaded actress Aiofe Madden, 31, had told the tax authorities her company, Evolved Pictures, were making a £20million film.

They hoped to claim £2.8million in tax credits and VAT repayments and had raked in £1million in tax credits before HMRC swooped and arrested them.

Then, in a farcical attempt to cover their tracks, they hastily recruited an unsuspecting crew and cast and shot their film in four months.

But the shoestring effort they produced for just £100,000 bore no relation to the ambitious plans they had submitted – and the taxmen saw through the ruse.

Yesterday, at Southwark Crown Court in London, bankrupt Iraqi building company boss Bashar Al-Issa, 33, was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue.

His accomplices Tariq Hassan, 51, Osama Al-Baghdady, 50, and Ian Sherwood, 53, were each found guilty of a single count of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue.

Mr. Issa came to Buffalo in a flourish several years ago, buying the Statler Towers and pledging to restore them to their former grandeur. He sought no public money and was greeted as a hero. He pledged that he would build the tallest skyscraper in Buffalo just off Niagara Square, and proposed an underground parking garage under the square to accommodate visitors’ parking needs. He even promised that a speedboat he bought would be available for the use of Statler guests and residents. 

Having renovated an elevator or two, he left town, selling the property at a loss in a flurry of litigation and bankruptcy filings, and his entire phony empire crumbled quickly around him

Surface Parking Protectionism

The image shown above is a rendering of the HARBORcenter – the Sabres’ proposed hotel, restaurant, retail, and indoor hockey destination planned for construction on the long-abandoned Webster Block.  It’s no Fallingwater, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not ugly and it’s wholly functional, and will bring people and their money to a fledgling entertainment district that’s growing in fits and starts of its own accord. 

Buffalo antideveloper Tim Tielman has started a company named after the “neighborhood workshops” that have been part and parcel of the formulation and implementation of Buffalo’s soon-to-be “Green Code” zoning law. On Tuesday, Tielman, on behalf of his “Neighborhood Workshop, LLC” appeared before the Planning Board to complain about how the Pegula-led “HARBORCenter” project for the Webster Block isn’t pretty enough for him and his clientHi-Temp Fabrications, which occupies an eyesore across the street from an HSBC Atrium surface lot. 

Four speakers, including the owner of a neighboring business, spoke against the project during a City Hall public hearing today.

Speakers said the development would contribute to congestion and that it did not resemble historic architecture styles.

“The central planning issue that we’re facing in Buffalo today … is how to connect downtown to the waterfront,” said Tim Tielman, whose Neighborhood Workshop consultancy developed an alternative concept on behalf of John and Shelley McKendry, who own Hi-Temp Fabrication, at 79 Perry St. Tielman said the project adds to the separation of downtown and the water, as the Skyway does.

Yes, it’s time to hold our horses and literally obstruct something being planned imminently to replace a surface parking lot.  Perhaps we can make it more historically interpretive by adding hay bales and hitching posts? A museum of downtown surface parking might be good for the cultural tourists? Or maybe we can just re-pave and re-stripe the lot? Perhaps we can retain Fred Kent and his extortionate traveling “placemaking” salon to discuss “flexible lawns” and colorful benches? Where are the solar-powered carousels?

Better yet, maybe we can tell the Sabres to go to hell and construct some ugly hodgepodge of buildings with outdoor rinks as an afterthought up on the roof. 

Mr. Tielman and his uncharacteristically disclosed patrons are coming to protect downtown’s connection to the waterfront – that is, if you ignore the fact that the railyard and the really big hockey arena both do that very thing already. 

Who are we in Buffalo to expect or want a nice hotel and hockey facility to help build on a solid entertainment district foundation now anchored by CanalSide, First Niagara Center, and Helium Comedy Club? 

If Hi-Temp Fabrications wants to weigh in on a development’s design, it should invest in the development or buy the parcel. The 11th hour unwanted micromanagement of a $170 million hockey destination and for what? For this eyesore, which looks like a Crayola marker box come to life; Curaçao by the Arena.


 This isn’t a case for historic preservation or even one where a better design is being proposed in place of an existing one. This is about ego, power, and subjective design prejudices. That hotel would look great in coastal Florida. In 1977. Those little phony colorful row houses look as stupid as they do out of place. The idea of outdoor rinks completely flies in the face of the Sabres’ intent – to design a destination Division 1 AAA hockey facility to attract tournaments of all ages from all over. Just leave the Sabres alone. When it comes to attracting people and money, they’ve already got things figured out pretty well. 

Failed City Opposes Bridge to Canada

Remember how Matty Moroun wanted to build a truck-only bridge to Fort Erie up by the rail crossing? Anyone else notice that anti-Peace Bridge expansion is right there on the front page of his Buffalo bridge website? I did. Has Mr. Moroun’s organization been seeding groups in town with money? Good question. Any way to find out? Please; this is Buffalo, not Detroit.  

I wonder why Canadians think it’s important to maintain better road links with the United States? I know there are a lot of very vocal Buffalonians who agree with the people in this video who think easier travel to Canada is unimportant, and rather than expand the Peace Bridge, argue strenuously for its removal.  Here’s your ghost of bridges future: 

Trader Joe’s in a Wegmans World

Trader Joe’s is coming to that huge shopping center in Amherst on Niagara Falls Boulevard where everything new to WNY always goes. Best Buy, Christmas Tree Shops, Carrabba’s, Panera Bread, and Chipotle all help to make that place impossible to navigate.  It will be located near Barnes & Noble and Famous Footwear. 

Trader Joe’s started in California as a convenience store competitor to 7-11. To differentiate its stores from the national chain’s, it adopted a South Seas motif and started selling specialty items. 

Two brothers, Theo and Karl Albrecht, created the discount supermarket chain “Aldi” in West Germany after WW2, and were instrumental in its European – and later worldwide – expansion.  Theo and Karl had a disagreement in the 1960s over selling cigarettes, so they split Aldi geographically in Germany, with Theo running Aldi Nord.  In 1979, a family trust of which Theo was a member bought – and still owns – Trader Joe’s.  And if you think about it, Trader Joe’s is Aldi with better frozen foods, higher quality groceries, and a cute concept.

I saw lots of commentary yesterday about how we don’t need Trader Joe’s because we’re so blessed to have Wegmans, the best grocery store in the universe. Not taking away from Wegmans at all, but Trader Joe’s is different, just like Aldi is different. I don’t see Aldi struggling to make do in a Wegmans-heavy market; neither will TJ’s. 

Although Trader Joe’s won’t be able to sell wine in its New York stores, thanks to our idiotic, protectionist liquor laws, it sells a nice variety of craft beers, has a great coffee section, one of the best frozen sections you’ll ever see, fantastic chocolates, and plenty of healthy and organic items that are different or cheaper than what you’re used to.  It’s fun to browse around and check out the many good-quality, cheap private-label items they carry. 

I used to go to TJ’s all the time when I lived in Massachusetts and recently stopped in to the new location outside Rochester, which is coincidentally located in the shopping center immediately adjacent to the Wegmans mothership in Henrietta. I didn’t leave empty-handed. 

Welcome Trader Joe’s. We like good food and we like bargains. It would seem to me that you’re a perfect fit for WNY. My only question is – what took so long? 

Naming Rights Tower

What the imminent emptying of the tower-soon-to-be-formerly-known-as-HSBC-Tower underscores is that Bashar Issa wasn’t just a charlatan, but a transparently obvious one. Here is our archive of what we’ve written about Issa over the years. 

Now that HSBC, Phillips Lytle, and the Canadian consulate are vacating Buffalo’s tallest building, what is to be done with it? It seems that the building’s owners should have seen the writing on the wall as far back as a few years ago, but seem to be caught without a plan “B”. To the Buffalo News, Seneca One Realty explains that it’s bringing in the Urban Land Institute to help it decide what to do with 38 empty stories’ worth of building at the foot of Main Street. 

One more vacant office building creates a sudden and dramatic glut of not-quite-class-A office space that will likely depress values throughout downtown Buffalo. For all intents and purposes, it joins the I-190 as a wall that separates Buffalo’s waterfront from its downtown. 

Now, more than ever, it’s time to consider transforming downtown into a sales tax-free zone in order to stimulate economic activity there


Main Street in Williamsville

How Hamburg did it

Will this finally be the time that Williamsville’s Main Street stops being an Autobahn and becomes a more pedestrian-friendly shopping high street? It’s 2012, and there appears at least to be something of a genuine push to make crossing Main Street less horrifying. 

And it’s not just Williamsville – there’s a regional anti-pedestrian mindset at work here. I dare you to find so much as one zebra crossing within Buffalo city limits. There are a few, but otherwise we’re still living in the 50s. I dare you to find so much as one “cars must yield to pedestrians in crosswalk” sign within city limits.

The rule is this: pedestrians must obey mechanical walk/don’t walk signs. (V&TL 1112) But in a crosswalk not governed by such signals, vehicles must yield the right of way to pedestrians. (V&TL 1151).  When is the last time you saw that happen? 

Back when I lived in Boston and had daily bouts of road rage, I would honk wildly at pedestrians crossing the intersection of Congress & North Streets by Faneuil Hall who were crossing against the light, pointing up at the bright red hand, saying loudly: “you don’t even need to be literate to understand that signal.” Or similar.

But I was extremely conscientious about yielding to pedestrians at crosswalks that were not regulated by walk/don’t walk signs. After all, Boston is a driver’s nightmare, but it’s a pedestrian’s dream. Sidewalks, window shopping, and well-marked crosswalks.

As far as pedestrians are concerned, Buffalo is stuck in the mid-70s. There are no zebra crosswalks. It’s as if they built the abysmal failure of a pedestrian mall on Main Street and figured that was enough.

Zebra crosswalk ca. 1969

And most suburbanites with whom I’ve spoken always complain about the lack of parking downtown. There is no lack of parking downtown. When parking costs $5.00/day or less, there is a veritable parking glut.

Instead, we have a Benderson mentality. Under Bendersonization, you have no problem parking for free within eyesight of your destination. Buffalo is a city. You can’t do that here. Sometimes, you might have to walk a few blocks, or park around the corner, so you can’t see your destination. If you park illegally (check the signs posted along the roadway for clues), you might get a ticket. Which you’ll have to pay. Shock horror. 

What Buffalo needs is smart parking, so that people who need a spot know where to go. Signs pointing the way to ramps, showing how many spots are available. Lights within the ramps glowing red for occupied and green for available. Signs within the ramps indicating how many spots are currently available on each level. 

If Batavia can undertake traffic calming measures on its Main Street, bringing it into the 21st century, Williamsville and Buffalo are capable of doing the same. Hamburg’s downtown is the model for everybody. It’s walkable and the roundabouts make it easy to navigate. These are changes that many cities made a decade ago. It’s as if our civic leaders never leave town. 

Main Street in Williamsville, Delaware Avenue north from the Scajaquada, Elmwood north from the Scajaquada, Transit, Southwestern: they all might as well be turned into limited-access parkways like the Taconic, Robert Moses, or Bronx River.

When I see the sidewalks on Main in Williamsville expanded; when I see roundabouts at the major intersections; when I see crosswalks at every corner, then I’ll know that walkability and aesthetics are being taken seriously. When I see a landscaped medium on Transit, I’ll know that our town fathers and mothers don’t want our area to look any more like Anaheim, CA than it already does. When I see curb extensions at crosswalks on Delaware, and real zoning that limits the construction of set-back plazas with ample streetfront parking, I’ll know that someone with a brain is in charge.

I wrote pretty much the same thing in 2005. Here’s something I wrote in 2006: 

I once read somewhere (damned if I can find it now) that large malls generally build their corridors at angles, because people will balk at walking a long distance if they can see the entire length. Main Street in Williamsville could be a shopping and stroller’s mecca.

Instead, it represents the 5th through 9th lanes of the New York State Thruway.

My dry cleaner used to be on Main Street, and I fully expected that one day my car door would get ripped off by a tractor-trailer racing by westbound at 70 miles per hour. There are few walk/don’t walk signs. There are poor crosswalks. The traffic lights are out of sequence, especially between North Union and Park Lane. The sidewalks are far too narrow; the street wide enough to be a Thruway extension.

I also think that several key intersections should have landscaped roundabouts, and the road should have a landscaped median, similar to what the City’s done on Main between Hertel and Bailey.

The hope is that some of the traffic would get on the Thruway when the toll barriers are shifted back from Williamsville to Newstead or Pembroke. Also, the News article mentions that Wehrle Drive, which is bumper-to-bumper at rush hour, is set to be expanded.

Could Williamsville be the next Niagara-on-the-Lake? Not without a Shaw Theater. Or a lake. But traffic calming combined with making the stretch between Evans and Union more pedestrian-friendly would certainly bring us closer to that ideal. Furthermore, the Village has to start getting smart about zoning. The Walgreen’s/Panera plaza at the corner of Union next to DiCamillo’s is idiotic. Who allowed that? It should have had parking in the back and abutted the sidewalk – yes, yes make all the jokes about “build it to the curb”, but even Carl Paladino’s new hotel project does that. 

You don’t see many parking lots fronting Queen Street in NOTL, do you? Mostly, traffic parks behind the buildings or on side streets. At least Williamsville is talking about it. Again.


EPA Smart Growth Awards 2012

The EPA named its best smart growth projects of 2012, and named for “honorable mention” is Buffalo’s Larkin District

Community organizations and a local developer partnered with the University of Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning to help revitalize the Larkin District, an old manufacturing site located one mile from downtown Buffalo.  Architectural students worked with the developer and the city to create a master plan for an urban village that now features new office space, restaurants, apartments, parks, and plazas. New sidewalks, lighting, crosswalks, bicycle lanes, and bus shelters reduce pollution from vehicles by making other transportation choices more appealing.

No word on what award the South side of the Larkin’s nouveau office park may have won. 

But I was more intrigued by this

Overall Excellence
BLVD Transformation Project, Lancaster, California
The redesign of Lancaster Boulevard helped transform downtown Lancaster into a thriving residential and commercial district through investments in new streetscape design, public facilities, affordable homes, and local businesses. Completed after eight months of construction, the project demonstrates how redesigning a corridor guided by a strategic vision can spark new life in a community.  The project has generated almost $300 million in economic output and nearly 2,000 jobs.

Take a look at the “before” image; it literally looks exactly like almost ever major thoroughfare in western New York. Transit Road, Main Street in Williamsville by way of example could be improved dramatically: 

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