LOCKPORT – One Region Forward, the University at Buffalo-based effort to create a plan to bring Erie and Niagara counties into a future of successful and sustainable development, will hold what it calls “open houses” Monday in Lockport and Tuesday in Buffalo.
Monday’s event is set for 5:30 and 7 p.m. in the Historic Palace Theatre, 2 East Ave. The Tuesday sessions at are the same times at the City Campus of Erie Community College.
Bart Roberts, research assistant professor at UB’s Regional Institute, said the meetings will offer “the key findings of the community engagement process.” He said the sessions will move the two-year process close to its culmination, the release of a final report that “will be distributed fairly soon.”
Roberts said, “The report has been worked on by over 100 subject-matter experts from the two-county region.”
Also, nearly 800 citizens have attended local meetings all over the region. They have completed 115 maps of possible visions for the future of Erie and Niagara counties.
Roberts said the people who participated showed a general consensus against suburban sprawl.
He said the majority wants “to grow where we’ve grown in the past, where we already have infrastructure.”
That means not only in downtown Buffalo and the central districts of the region’s small cities, but in village centers and Main Streets.
Roberts said the draft report looks back at a detailed analysis of the last 25 years of development, or lack thereof, in the region, “and what 40 more years of that would mean for land use.”
He said the report also looks at the financial and other costs of continuing the old trends.
But Roberts said that in the past few years, there has been a different trend. It features construction of major projects in downtown Buffalo, and that’s not the only place.
“Some of our village centers, such as Hamburg really embracing its community center, there’s a lot of progress I’ve seen,” Roberts said. He said the residents who attended previous One Region Forward meetings embraced transportation options, farmland preservation and waterfront access.
Analyzing the citizens’ 115 vision maps, which are available on the organization’s website, One Region Forward has grouped them into four main scenarios and used computer models to estimate their impacts on indicators such as vehicle miles traveled, energy consumption, farmland converted for residential development, housing abandonment, infrastructure costs, property and sales tax revenues.
One scenario is called “Back to the City,” while a second calls for “A Region of Villages,” although it includes redevelopment of urban cores.
A third scenario is “Sprawl Smarter,” while the fourth is tagged “Business as Usual,” based on an extrapolation of development patterns from the past 20 years.
“We’ll ask participants in the open houses to consider these estimates of future costs and benefits and then let us know which of these scenarios make the most sense to them now,” said Hal Morse, chairman of the One Region Forward steering committee and executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council.
Those attending the meetings will be asked about some of the tactics needed to implement any of the scenarios while saying which they like and which they don’t.
“It’s not about choosing one scenario over the other,” said Robert Shibley, director of the UB Regional Institute. “We will borrow ideas from all of the scenarios and combine them in a broader shared vision for the future of the region. But we need to know what citizens think in order to get the mix right.”