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Forum held on waterfront revitalization efforts

May 25, 2016
By Amanda Dedie - , Westfield Republican

There is hope for waterfront revitalization, according to speakers at an event hosted recently by the League of Women Voters.

The Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan is "a locally prepared, comprehensive land and water use plan for a community's natural, public and working waterfront." Ten waterfront communities in Chautauqua County have received funding from New York state to complete this plan. These communities are: the city of Dunkirk, the towns of Dunkirk, Hanover, Pomfret, Portland, Sheridan, Ripley and Westfield and the villages of Silver Creek and Westfield and the hamlet of Ripley.

The main goal of the LWRP is to spur waterfront development and redevelopment. Other goals include: improve public access to waterfronts; protect and improve environmental systems such as water quality, erosion and habitats; stimulate economic development and improve and expand recreational opportunities.

Article Photos

Photo by Amanda Dedie
The League of Women Voters recently hosted an event on the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. Pictured is Legislator George Borrello.

"I moved back to Chautauqua County and I really wanted to make this a better place to live, work and play. Being a part of what we can do to develop that is really my passion," said George Borrello, county legislator, chairman of the county planning and economic development committee and chairman of the Lake Erie Management Commission.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the point of differentiation for Chautauqua County is our lakefront. It is what makes us unique," said Borrello. "We have 44 miles of coastline along Lake Erie here in Chautauqua County. ... I was speaking to somebody and they were saying, 'Unfortunately, if you're looking at our area and at our development plan, it's like if you're looking at something from a distance, maybe a nice looking man or woman, then you get a little closer and they smile and you see that their teeth are missing.' Unfortunately, that's a pretty good analogy. It might be a little harsh to hear, but it is."

Borrello said that development comes down to three basic things: planning, funding and execution. However, there are 134,000 people in all of Chautauqua County, with 64 municipalities and 18 school districts, which makes it challenging to get things done.

The critical part, Borrello said, for elected officials and stakeholders in the community, is to be directly involved in developing a plan, and making sure that everyone, whether it be a village, town or city, is involved.

"We're all excited about this 900 jobs coming to our area (Athenex). We do not put together a good plan if we do not look at the growth potential and where we are going to put things and how they are going to be developed. We're going to have a challenge with this because, at the end of the day, people don't have to live here to work there. They can live in Erie County, they can live in Erie, Pa. They can live wherever they want. If we want them to live in Chautauqua County in general, we need to have a plan so we can make this area a livable community. ... We need to make Chautauqua County a great place to live, work and play in," said Borrello.

After, there was an opportunity for a question and answer session, where attendees could speak their mind about the county, the area or the topic being presented.

"This is a gem. Chautauqua County is awesome. From my point of view, I am so glad that you are doing what you are doing. We need to have a political climate that welcomes Republicans and Democrats; that we get rid of this division, and I think that's part of the problem with the local community It's a gold mine here! ... We don't have tornadoes, we don't have major flooding, we don't have hurricanes, and this is just a gem. I am with you all the way on this," said Rose Sebouhian.

Borrello agreed, answering with, "We can have a debate about national politics, but at the end of the day we're on the same road, and whether or not we're Democrat or Republican should have nothing to do with it. This is about what's best for us."

Next, Judy Lutz-Woods, who has moved away from Chautauqua County, only to move back twice, said, "I get very frustrated with people in this area that we're not bragging more. People don't realize people move here on purpose. We should be bragging, and I don't know how to change that mindset. We have good schools here, we have good roads, we have good local government. ... We need to start bragging about what we have here."

Roger Orcutt followed that up with, "At the last rally for the NRG, the head of the electrician's union got up and spoke and mentioned he came from Staten Island. He came here, took one look and moved his family here form Staten Island. But you have to get the word out. But if people relocate up here, there's gotta be jobs. That's what we need in this equation."

Borrello responded by simply saying, "We're going to start looking at how do we bring everyone together? We really do have to start thinking about the fact that we are one small area. The only way we're going to attract attention and fund these projects is make it a bigger project that impacts more people."

Up next was Jay Warren, chairman of the LWRP committee and former chair of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation Local Economic Development Committee.

The focus of the LED committee is on Lake Erie shoreline communities, including Ripley, Westfield, Portland, Brocton, Dunkirk, Fredonia, Silver Creek and Hanover.

"The LED Committee forms a distinct sub-region of the Buffalo-Niagara Region that shares unique assets and opportunities that are distinct from the rest of the county, therefore, a targeted economic development strategy is warranted," according to a handout at the event.

The committee is currently focused on advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, business support/technology, energy - clean and traditional sources - Lake Erie/regional waterfront development, life and health services, logistics and trade, and tourism and hospitality.

"Take a look at each of those areas and ask what the current state of affairs are," said Warren. "We looked at those and knowing that we couldn't tackle them all we identified four areas we felt had the most immediate promise and the most immediate return."

Those four areas would be agribusiness, business support/technology, Lake Erie/regional waterfront development, and tourism and hospitality.

"We had four developers show up (to a meeting) and asked what some of the challenges were that they faced and they said it was not knowing what the game rules were," Warren said. "They didn't want to invest a lot of money in an area only to find out the community wasn't going to welcome them."

"They suggested that we do a local waterfront revitalization plan. That was the first time I'd heard about it, probably back in 2011. It was actually, though, started back in the '90s, with a draft done by the Chadwick Bay (Regional Development Corporation). It was sent to the state for review it came back with about 42 pages, or 140 items that needed to be addressed and that was the end of it. We dug that out and the LED group said, 'Let's get this done, because it's so valuable.' We got our volunteer group, split it up and started visiting communities," said Warren.

The committee addressed the 140 or so items and have sent back the newly drafted plan, and are waiting to hear back from the state on whether or not the plan is approved. There were many components to the draft, such as a breakdown of all municipalities, waterfronts, projects, concerns and more.

"Probably the piece most helpful was the project section, where each municipality listed projects they'd like to see done if the government would help them. Erosion, boating, pollution, etc.," Warren said.

There were many suggestions as to what could be done to help further the cause.

"Agitate the elected officials in each of your communities. You have to be a pain in the neck. You have to let them know that there's going to be more than one phone call," said Pat Christina, member of the League of Women Voters.



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