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After years of work, Buffalo's new Green Code may become reality

WBFO File Photo

After years of effort, hundreds of meetings and thousands of residents involved, Buffalo's proposed Green Code is back before the Council for final action.

Strategic Planning Director Brendan Mehaffy says there have been 100 recent changes, getting the new zoning code ready for use. It's expected to be ready for the start of the spring construction season.

One major area concerned about earlier versions of the plan was the Elmwood Village.

"At a first look, I want to emphasize at a first look, it looks like the city listened to the community," said lawyer Martin Littlefield who is chairman of Councilmember Joel Feroleto's Working Group on the Green Code.

Littlefield rattled off some of what he sees as positive changes in the plan.
"It's only three stories. That's what we wanted. There's a limited space on the first floor. Instead of 10,000 square feet, it's 3,500. There's lot consolidation that they can't do. Density issues that are now required."

Other changes include limiting development on the Outer Harbor and tightening demolition rules to protect historic structures.

From Mehaffy's perspective, the Green Code is needed to replace the current zoning code which is over 60 years old.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond
Buffalo's Elmwood Village.

"It's important that we have a document that reflects Buffalo as it is today and with the opportunities that we have today. And, that was one of the reasons it was so important that we took the hodge podge of a code that we have right now and updated it."

The Mayor's Office released what it says are the key changes, gleaned from the public sessions:

  • In residential zones, new provisions restrict the size and density of multi-family projects.
  • The maximum building height, applying to mixed-use commercial corridors like Elmwood Avenue, Grant Street and High Street is reduced from five stories to three stories.
  • Five-story buildings will be allowed only along commercial corridors like on Niagara Street, Main Street and Delaware Avenue, which are served by high-quality public transit.
  •  In open-space zones, the maximum building occupancy has been reduced from 25 percent of lot area to 10 percent of lot area, greatly restricting the amount of land that can be developed on the Outer Harbor, with the vast majority of land being set aside for open space.
  •  New provisions create special development standards for Elmwood Village.
  • The maximum size of a commercial establishment is reduced from 10,000 square feet to 3,500 square feet on the ground floor and 7,000 square feet overall.
  • To control the community's concern about large-scale redevelopment, a new provision allows only up to two lots to be combined for new construction, strengthening standards for building materials.
  • McCarley Gardens is re-zoned to reinforce the current residential character of the neighborhood.

The Mayor's Office says over the next weeks, the Common Council will review the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement for completeness. Code documents will then be reviewed by the city's Planning Board and be subject to public hearings to be held by the Common Council. When those hearings close, the code will be finalized by a Common Council vote.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.