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Paving over green space at issue with NOCO zoning request

Mike Desmond

Anyone who has dealt with the building approval system in Buffalo City Hall knows it is complicated, tangled and somewhat circular. That could show at Tuesday afternoon's Common Council Legislation Committee, as NOCO asks for a zoning change for a house and double lot it recently bought on Elmwood Avenue.

The site is next to an existing convenience store and gas station at Elmwood and Forest Avenue. That is an exceptionally busy facility with around 1,000 transactions a day, half gas and half convenience, adjacent to one of the city's tonier neighborhoods and across the street from the controversial Chason Affinity development project.

NOCO said there has been a gas station at that corner for at least 60 years. It wants to keep the house, but shave a green area to allow for six more parking spaces. NOCO Vice President Tim Boyle said the store's current layout reflects a time long ago.

"It was laid out that way when it was a repair shop," Boyle said, "and as the business model has grown, our volume has grown and our need for additional parking and circulation for vehicular traffic and also in an attempt to try to better circulate the vehicular traffic as it incorporates with the pedestrian traffic."

The process of making a recommendation to the Council was complicated Monday because a bare quorum showed up for the Planning Board, leaving it with not enough votes to approve or deny the proposal. So it was sent back to NOCO to re-think its plan.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Some of the green space that would go away if NOCO's requested zoning change is approved.

"It's complicated," said Planning Board member Mike Rembis, "because the residents of the neighborhood are very articulate and they know what they want and they know what they don't want, and I think many of them don't want to eliminate green space along Elmwood or anywhere in Buffalo and so projects like this run into opposition from the residents."

Rembis said he wanted to deny the zoning change because of green space concerns.

"Elmwood is a dense pedestrian setting and I feel like the elimination of green space, especially on Elmwood, but anywhere in Buffalo, runs counter to the new Green Code," Rembis said, "and with the new structure going up across the street on Elmwood and Forest, I think green space is already being reduced in that area and I just don't see the need to reduce green space any further."

However, the Legislation Committee could approve the needed zoning recommendation Tuesday to allow the convenience store to move onto some of the green space between the store and the house the company owns. The company said the house will remain and be repaired and rented.

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.