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Waterfront plan takes shape

WATKINS GLEN—The village of Watkins Glen could soon adopt a comprehensive, legally enforceable plan that sets standards for the development of waterfront property in the community. 
The village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, in preparation off and on since 1991, has been completed and will be taken up by the village board beginning Jan. 20. 
Mayor Judy Phillips said she expects the trustees to adopt a local law implementing the plan before summer. 
Danielle Hautaniemi, director of planning and community development for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County, prepared the 130-page document. 
“I’m very excited that the village has decided to pick it up again,” Hautaniemi said. “There was active involvement of a lot of citizens and it’s nice to see all that effort and thought pay off.” 
The proposed plan divides the village waterfront along Seneca Lake and the Seneca Canal, also known as the Barge Canal, into four distinct areas: the Western Lakefront, the Central Lakefront, the Eastern Lakefront and the Canal Area. 
Within each area, the plan identifies specific projects that can be undertaken and establishes parameters for permissible uses. 
A local law will require that development proposals be certified as “consistent” with the plan before they can be undertaken. 
Hautaniemi said investment in the waterfront areas, such as the construction of the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel, is increasing. 
“The village does not have a comprehensive plan, so it’s particularly important to have a set of policies and a vision for this unique resource,” she said. 
The major goals of the proposal include: 
• Encouraging the redevelopment of vacant industrial and commercial land and buildings in the Western and Central lakefront areas. 
• Giving priority to the development of water-dependent and water-enhanced businesses, such as marinas, bait shops and restaurants. 
• Maximizing public access and recreational opportunities along the waterfront. 
• Supporting the protection, upgrading and restoration of historically significant buildings and sites. 
• Protecting and improving the visual quality of the waterfront. 
• Strengthening small harbors by maintaining a mix of traditional uses and resolving conflicts among users. 
• Encouraging development in areas where public services and other facilities are adequate.
• Protecting and restoring fish and wildlife habitats. 
• Preserving and protecting wetlands. 
• Steering development away from flood hazard areas. 
The revitalization plan identifies several buildings as possible targets for renovation and historic status. Included are the 1850 Richtmeyer Seed Store (known today as the Scuteri Building); the 1915 Municipal Light Building; and the Fall Brook Coal Company/Henry Lembeck House, which dates from 1865 to 1870. 
A series of projects is also proposed in each of the four lakefront areas. In the Eastern Lakefront, the plan envisions upgrades to facilities at Clute Memorial Park, along with establishment of a salt museum and a fitness trail. It also calls for upgrades at Tank Beach adjacent to Clute Park so that the beach could be opened to the public. 
In the Canal sub-area, potential projects include a paved parking lot in South Clute Park, screening the camping area there from Route 414 and establishing an interpretive trail through Queen Catharine Marsh. In the Central Lakefront, proposed projects include improved dock signs to guide transient boaters at Seneca Harbor park, a study of parking resources in the area, and efforts to improve the retail, recreational and entertainment mix. 
Also proposed for the Central Lakefront are completion of the Catharine Valley Trail from Watkins Glen High School to Seneca Harbor Park, the placement of information kiosks throughout the district, construction of a lakefront boardwalk or walkway and installation of public art work. 
The plan also calls for upgrading the housing stock in the Central Lakefront area. 
Minimal development is proposed for the Western Lakefront because of steep slopes, poor access and lack of sewage disposal services. Both the Scuteri Building and the Municipal Light Building are located in that section. 
Hautaniemi said the national recession will make it harder to find funding for the waterfront projects. 
“There’s no denying money is going to be a little tight,” she said. Once the plan is approved, however, the village could become eligible for funds through the Department of State’s Quality Communities Program and the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. 
There’s also the potential that federal economic recovery funds could be sought to implement some of the plan’s provisions, Hautaniemi said. 
Some of the estimated costs include: 
• Completing the Catharine Valley Trail from Watkins Glen High School to Seneca Harbor Park, $280,000. 
• Building a lakefront boardwalk or walkway, $80,000. 
• Preservation of salt derrick, Clute Park, $250,000.
• Tank Beach picnic area, $150,000. 
• Interpretive trail through Queen Catharine Marsh, $75,000. 
Adoption of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan will also assure that any proposed New York State projects in the area must be consistent with the plan, Hautaniemi said. The plan is also consistent with the village’s existing zoning law, she said. 
One specific need identified in the plan is for the expansion of marina facilities along the waterfront. A survey of five marinas indicated that few vacancies exist for transient boaters. Land ownership in the waterfront revitalization area—56 percent of the land is privately owned—makes it critical that the village work with the private sector to develop new projects. 
“The presence of extensive, largely open, privately owned land represents a considerable asset and opportunity to the village in accommodating future water-related development,” the plan says. Cargill Inc., with 140 acres, is the largest private landowner in the project area. New York State owns 102 acres of the 380.4 total acres in the revitalization area. 
Improving public access to the waterfront will be another priority. Public access to county-owned Seneca Harbor Park is limited by poor traffic circulation and parking facilities, the plan says, and by the presence of the Finger Lakes Railway Corp. rail line, which runs through the park to serve Cargill Inc. 
“With the exception of (village-owned) Clute Park, the remainder of the shoreline requires access across private property,” the plan says. The county park includes a public fishing pier and breakwater, a boat-rental business, a restaurant and businesses offering boat tours and dinner cruises on Seneca Lake. It also has public rest room facilities. 
Expansion of recreational boating opportunities is also identified as a priority in the new plan. 
“Revitalization of the waterfront depends on the ability to capitalize on recreational tourism opportunities offered by Seneca Lake, the Seneca Canal and their connection to the New York State Barge Canal System,” the plan says. 
Through the Seneca Canal and Seneca Lake, boaters can reach the 524-mile barge canal system, which provides access to the Atlantic Ocean, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway. 
“It (the canal system) represents a substantial asset to the village for future recreational opportunities,” the plan says. 
A copy of the waterfront revitalization plan is available for public inspection at the village offices at 303 N. Franklin St. between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, said Village Clerk Donna Beardsley.

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