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A new urbanism: Buffalo’s Green Code to be discussed Saturday

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

There’s one line in particular in the preview of Buffalo’s new Green Code, the title of the coming city-wide zoning ordinance, that speaks directly to its mission.

Christopher Alexander, a renowned architect from England, wrote this: “Every increment of construction must be done in such a way as to heal the city.”

The healing of Buffalo’s design is progressing slowly—the renovated Statler City and Hotel at the Lafayette, the development Canalside (mixed-use operations like the Harbor Center and Donovan Building), the growth of neighborhoods on Hertel, Larkinville and Black Rock, and the combination of outside business interest and a local focus on start-ups has Buffalo at a bit of a crossroads between potential and execution.

How can the city become more progressive from a design and architectural perspective? Will there be a unifying theme to incorporate very diverse districts? Will legislation impose upon or complement Buffalo’s burgeoning communities?

From 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, the Elmwood Village Association and Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Planning will gather together to hold a public forum explaining a draft of the zoning ordinance.

Does this sound mind-numbing and largely meaningless? It’s not. The City of Buffalo hasn’t formulated a zoning code since the 1950s, and this code essentially promoted suburban design in an urban environment.

The EVA’s Jeffery Amplement said the typical time for drafting a new zoning code is every 30+ years, so Buffalo’s current guidelines are horrifically outdated. Here’s a link to see the preview of the new Green Code—it’s 32 pages, but there are lots of pictures and lists to make the ordinance more easily digestible.

Although Elmwood Village passed the Elmwood Village Design Standards in 2009, many of the principles that propelled the village into a vibrant, multi-mobile community with storefronts close to the street were illegal under the zoning code of the 1950s. Because of the model that the EVA has set, the City of Buffalo is looking to mimic the village’s approach through a city-wide ordinance.

Now, through the efforts of the Office of Strategic Planning, an outside consulting firm, input by local districts and several public forums, a new zoning ordinance—the Green Code—is only a few steps away from taking effect.

The city-wide zoning code won’t initiate major change in the Elmwood Village, but it will make tremors throughout the other major districts in the city—Allentown, Hertel, Grant and Ferry, Grant and Amherst, and more. When asked how the Green Code would impact the ever-changing nature of neighborhoods—particularly more diverse stretches on the West Side—Elmwood Village Association executive director Carly Battin saw the code as an advantage.

“I think it will bring back the fabric of those neighborhoods,” Battin said. “[The new zoning code] would allow a lot of those traditions to come back.”

“The growth would be organic,” Amplement added. “[The City] wouldn’t be imposing development on people—it’s more of a guide for what could be.”

Perhaps the most progressive measure that the Green Code would institute is the elimination of minimum parking standards—Buffalo would be the first city in America to formally pass this change. Here’s a quick note from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (Mapc.org) on removing minimum parking:

Minimum parking requirements are so prevalent that eliminating them may seem like heresy, but these requirements may be limiting downtown redevelopment or increasing the cost of providing affordable housing.

“[The new policy would] not eliminate the ability to add more parking,” Amplement noted, “but this is more of a shift in thinking.” Throughout the city—not just in Elmwood Village—there will be a strong emphasis on walkable and bike-able communities. See Buffalo Rising’s Newell Nussbaumer’s post about the potential remake of Allentown, which backs the Green Code’s goals.

For a timeline, Saturday’s meeting is another step in the process to inform the public and gather feedback on the current proposal. The Office of Strategic Planning is expected to complete a final draft in February before presenting it to the Buffalo Common Council.

The Green Code is then planned to be made public by spring and fully enforced—after a six-month period of transition and training—by fall 2013 or early 2014.

“[Buffalo] is not following what other progressive cities did 10 years ago,” Battin concluded. “We’re trying to have Buffalo become the trendsetter.”

(Read this Buffalo Rising article that touches on one of the more controversial aspects of Saturday’s meeting.)

TAGGED: elmwood village association, eva, green code, jeffrey amplement, lafayette presbyterian church, office of strategic planning

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