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Residents' participation sought in overhaul of city zoning code

The mere mention of Buffalo's zoning code overhaul may cause some people's eyes to glaze over as they visualize policy wonks mulling over every minor detail.

City Hall aims to change this mind-set.

Planning officials are set to launch an "outreach blitz" that will encourage more residents to take an active role in reshaping their neighborhoods, business districts and downtown.

The city's $2.1 million, three-year mission to update codes that haven't changed in six decades is moving into a neighborhood near you.

Within the next two months, nine community meetings will be held around the city in hopes of encouraging hundreds of residents to take part in a dialogue that could impact communities for generations. Some meetings will even be held on weekends to encourage participation.

What do people want to see in their neighborhoods? What makes a community a great place to live? How should business districts be integrated into the mix?

These are just a few of the issues that will be explored as Buffalo takes its extreme makeover of zoning codes on the road.

Too often, said Mayor Byron W. Brown, a tiny group of vocal residents tries to shape policies and agendas.

"We have a few people that think they know best for every other person in the community. Not in this process," Brown said Friday as met with his planning team.

Planning Director Brendan R. Mehaffy said a list of meeting dates and locations will be publicized soon. They will be held in late February and early March.

"We need a wide variety of voices at these public meetings," Mehaffy said.

Three preliminary public meetings have been held, discussions were initiated with some community leaders, and technical committees have been empaneled. Thus far, about 400 people have had a voice in laying the groundwork for the zoning code review, Mehaffy said. More than 50 participants live in the suburbs, and Mehaffy said that's not surprising. Many people recognize that Buffalo is the center of the region.

"It holds implications for the entire region, and there are a lot of people who are very interested," Mehaffy said.

Many former city residents still have strong ties to their old neighborhoods, he added. "They want to see these neighborhoods survive and thrive."

The goal of the overhaul is to establish a new set of regulations that would promote economic development, make it easier to renovate older buildings, plan for more "walkable" communities and achieve other objectives. Encouraging environmental-friendly "green" initiatives also is a key priority.

City officials are working with Camiros, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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