Dunkirk hears plans for Lake Erie waterfront

The future looks swimmingly bright for Lake Erie waterfronts and harbors, according to presentations given by various agency representatives during Saturday’s Lake Erie Rally held at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club.

Organized and proctored by Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, area officials, representatives and members of the public were updated on current waterfront projects and plans that affect ten communities from Erie County Pennsylvania to Erie County New York.

“There are a lot of people working together to make Chautauqua County’s harbors and waterfronts premier destinations for boaters, sportsman and tourists,” said George Borrello, Lake Erie Management Commission Chairman and Chautauqua County Legislator. “This part of New York state has been a well-kept secret, which is something we hope to change by having events like this.”

As for local projects in the works, Dunkirk’s Director of Planning and Development Rebecca Yanus began her presentation regarding the Northern County Water District.

“(Dunkirk) is ready to start providing water to the surrounding communities,” Yanus announced. “It’s in the completion of Phase III in the waste water treatment at the water filtration plant and is ready to start the connection to Brocton. Bidding (for the project) will go out in July.”

Yanus said the city is working with the owners of the Burgess property located left of the pier.

“Although we don’t have specific plans on what is going to happen there,” said Yanus, “(the owners) have partnered with SUP Erie Adventures” which is a company that rents recreational water equipment like paddle boards and kayaks.

“We’re working on a hotel/restaurant component next to the Clarion,” Yanus said. “This is currently in negotiations between the developer and the city. We want to create a tourism-concentrated environment for this hotel/restaurant possibility. The developers really want to take advantage of the beer and wine component as well as conduct tours out of the hotel at the different wineries throughout Chautauqua county and really bring that focus back to our waterfront.”

Yanus explained that the city is working with a private housing developer, specifically around the Wright Park area.

“We’re looking at taking advantage of Athenex coming to town and bringing 450 jobs to our area. It’s obvious that we need some more housing in our community. We have an older housing stock, so we really need some new options for people coming to work in our community.”

Plans are also in the works to begin improvement projects at both Wright Park and Point Gratiot.

“Right now we’re in the planning phases in cost estimates in putting specs together so we can get started with these park improvements this summer,” Yanus said.

These improvements include “reducing runoff, improving water quality, cleaning up our beach areas, and creating a natural, slower filtration system,” Yanus explained. “They’ve come up with a different asphalt removal project and (adding) bio-soil and rain gardens. The goal is to remove blight and spur economic development by identifying opportunities for reinvestment and revitalization.”

Much of the funding for these revitalization projects along the waterfront comes from the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), which started three years ago in an attempt to resurrect a plan initiated in 1999, but was never finished.

Patrick Gooch, Senior Planner at the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development explained the importance of LWRP to the audience.

“A finished LWRP allows us to tap into funds to revitalize the waterfront in a way we can’t currently do so,” Gooch said. “It is a locally-prepared land and water use plan for communities to develop natural public working waterfronts. That’s key. It’s not just about recreational access, it’s not just about working waterfronts, it’s a combination of both.”

Gooch emphasized that the LWRP gives local control over the planning and that “when this plan is adopted and finished both New York State and the Federal Government have to be consistent with what we want for our community. It is a way to take back control of the waterfront and allow it so we can make the waterfront something that works for everyone in (the county).”

Currently the LWRP is in Phase II, with the ambitious goal of being completed by the end of 2018.

“By getting an LWRP adopted, it cues up funding and then sets up the ability for developers to buy in to the plan for the waterfront and be prepared to spend money and get investment in return,” Said Gooch. “This year there is $15.2 million dollars available. The comprehensive plan that Dunkirk applied for was through LWRP funding. We’re trying to leverage our assets, invest in them to attract further investment from outside dollars and we can do that through planning and figuring out how we invest in the future.”

Gooch provided examples of municipalities that have had success using LWRP, including the Tonawanda’s.

“North Tonawanda is an LWRP that has received millions of dollars benefiting them along the shore such as wall enhancements, amphitheaters, Boat docking facilities and other amenities to attract more people into their communities,” he said.

The clock tower in Hamburg is another example of a project completed through LWRP funding, along with improvements to recreational coast access for larger boats to smaller ones like canoes and kayaks.

“We’re rolling back some plans in order to finish what the community had envisioned in 1998,” Gooch said.

Both Gooch and Yanus strongly urged more public participation in the planning process.

The next public meeting is scheduled for this Wednesday, May 17 at 6:30 p.m. the Incubator.