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Buffalo seeks better coordination in development approval process

Mike Desmond

Buffalo Common Councilmembers are looking at potential changes to the city's development approval process because it is so intricate it can lock up. Council President Darius G. Pridgen says the process can be inconvenient for residents trying to monitor a project.

The approval process is tangled, from the day the plan is filed - and Permit and Inspection Services tries to figure out if there are quirks like needed zoning variances - to the day when ground is broken. It's become longer under the Green Code and can quickly bog down, as did NOCO's request for more parking at Elmwood and Forest on Tuesday.

When the Buffalo Common Council Legislation Committee met on Tuesday, a decision on converting part of a NOCO-owned residential lot on Elmwood Avenue was on the agenda. However, no action could be taken because the city Planning Board had tabled the proposal.

NOCO lawyer Sean Hopkins initially said there would be a new plan in two weeks.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Some of the green space that NOCO wants to paved over.

"We will have updated plans ready to present to the Planning Board during its next meeting, two weeks from yesterday," Hopkins said. "Obviously, I can't speak for the Planning Board as to whether that will be enough to provide them with the opportunity to make a recommendation.

"I would note and I want to make it very clear for the record, I support your position that there should be an additional public hearing so that everyone that's here today would have an opportunity to comment on the revised plan."

Then, Hopkins asked to push this all to September, after the August recess. Part of this is that the new requirements of the Green Code mean that the Planning Board can still approve a project, but it takes two weeks to prepare the legal findings on the approval.

Council President Pridgen said more coordination is needed.

"We set [the date] without knowing what the Planning Board is going to do, like in this instance, and I wonder if I'm a systems thinker, in our system, if we may need to start setting that date after we get a decision from the Planning Board," Pridgen said. "This keeps happening and we're asking the residents, 'come back, come back, come back.'"

The Planning Board was asked to approve the NOCO plan on Monday and the Legislation Committee was supposed to approve it on Tuesday. The board tabled the plan for more study and it won't be back until September, but the Legislation Committee was supposed to act.

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.
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