NIAGARA FALLS — A public hearing on a proposal to redesign the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park on Tuesday turned into a denunciation of what several speakers called Albany’s “greed” toward the natural wonder.
Many of the people who spoke during a meeting Tuesday night at Conference Center Niagara Falls said they were displeased that the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is pursuing a plan to reconstruct the southern section of the Robert Moses Parkway rather than remove it.
“Year after year after year, you come here from Albany and you don’t listen to us,” James Hufnagle said. “You give us the same line, time after time after time, and you do what benefits Albany. You do what benefits downstate, and you do what benefits your corporate masters.”
The meeting was designed to air public comments on the latest conceptual plans for the section of the Robert Moses Parkway between John B. Daly Boulevard and the mainland section of Niagara Falls State Park.
“ . . . It’s not really a parkway. I would call it an expressway.” historian Paul Gromosiak
A team of consultants working on the proposal has drawn up two alternatives for that section of the parkway that would replace the existing four-lane road with two lanes of low-speed traffic that would run from the interchange of
John B. Daly Boulevard and the mainland parking lot.
One of the alternatives would follow the existing alignment of the parkway; the other would add several features designed to make the parkway reflect an 1887 “riverway” concept for the park drawn up by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Paul Gromosiak, a local historian, said he supported reducing the parkway to two lanes, lowering its speed and adding natural plants and wildlife.
He said he recently drove down the parkway and saw cars zipping past the scenery.
“No one cared that there was a river there,” Gromosiak said. “They were just in a hurry to get from point A to point B. So it’s not really a parkway. I would call it an expressway.”
The proposals unveiled Tuesday night also included three potential interchanges for the parkway at John B. Daly Boulevard. Two of those proposals would add a traffic circle at that intersection.
“We want to make Niagara Falls State Park better,” said Jeff Lebsack, project manager for Hatch Mott MacDonald, the project’s lead consultant. “And to do that we want to make sure visitors have a clear sense of arrival.”
The latest conceptual plans have dropped an earlier proposal to put a pond at the entrance to the state park as drivers enter from the southern section of the parkway.
State Parks plans to hold another public meeting in the fall once more detailed designs are complete. Officials believe construction could begin in 2011.
Lebsack could not provide cost projections for the alternatives shown to the public Tuesday.
The proposals drew 17 public speakers before time ran out. Nearly all of them were critical of the plan and several suggested it was designed to benefit the park’s money-making parking lots and concessions, rather than the community.
“The whole world seems to understand the uniqueness of this area except for the State of New York and State Parks,” said Lisa Vitello. “It’s treated with no respect.”
Hufnagle and others who attended an earlier public hearing in December wanted to know why none of the proposals explored the possibility of removing the parkway and restoring the park’s natural landscape.
About 50 of the people who attended the meeting came together on two Cataract Tour buses organized by One Niagara manager Frank Parlato Jr. Parlato operates a paid parking lot outside his building just outside the park.
“Meeting after meeting, now, you’re going to see that people are going to get a little more heated,” said Robert Helms. “Because we’re all pretty much sick of what we stare at when we look out our window.”
Buffalo News Blog
Citizens not bashful on Moses redesign
Is the state making up for past wrongs in Niagara Falls or serving its own interests?
That was at the heart of comments made during a public meeting Tuesday night on a proposal to redesign the Robert Moses Parkway as it enters Niagara Falls State Park.
And representatives for the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation got an earful. A story in today's Niagara & Region section explains the latest conceptual designs for the southern section of the parkway and the public reaction.
Many of the speakers at the meeting expressed disappointment over the way the state has managed the park for more than a century. They told project consultants that their failure to draw up a proposal to remove the road from the park and restore its natural landscape is a mistake.
Dozens of people who attended the meeting and appeared to be opposed to the plan came together and are affiliated with a commercial building, One Niagara, that operates a paid parking lot and a retail center just outside the state park.
Others came on their own.
Whoever they came with, many of the people at the meeting appeared to oppose the latest conceptual designs and to blame the state for the condition of Niagara Falls.
"I have to explain every day pretty much why there's a hideous mess to look at in what was once a beautiful city," said Robert Helms, a musician who also works in One Niagara.
Jeff Lebsack, of Hatch Mott MacDonald, the lead consultant on the project, said the proposals are meant as an improvement.
"Everybody working on this project really does care about the city and our efforts are oriented to trying to return and correct some of these things that happened," Lebsack said. "We're going to try to change some of that."
-- Denise Jewell Gee
Posted by: gary | April 29, 2009 at 09:12 AM