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Code overhaul on track; Developers and residents will benefit from effort to update zoning regulations

Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration has done a yeoman's job these past couple of years gathering and analyzing a wealth of data that will be critical to the economic future of the City of Buffalo.

The goal is to rewrite the City Code, the often-confusing set of rules that govern planning and development in the city. Unfortunately for something so important, it's a dry topic. But the effort is long overdue -- the City Code hasn't been comprehensively revamped since 1953, and no changes to land-use planning have been made since 1977.

What alterations were made in the past sometimes just worsened bad policy. The rewrite now under way will remove a lot of the inconsistencies created by patchwork changes that no longer fit the current reality.

Ultimately the work will simplify, speed up, clarify and make more predictable the development process in the City of Buffalo. It will also create the foundation for sound investment of the $1 billion in new development money promised by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

But the process hasn't been easy. This 30-month, $2.1 million overhaul was announced by Brown two years ago during his State of the City address.

Brown recognized that the current code results in a slower, contentious, complicated and expensive development process. In some cases, the code could allow projects in neighborhoods where they were no longer appropriate.

To change that dynamic, Brown turned to someone at the highest level of his administration: Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning. Mehaffy and his team have been engaged in a painstaking effort, down to documenting every piece of vacant land and every curb cut in downtown.

The unprecedented level of detail and information produced will help officials understand the development potential of any piece of land in Buffalo. The next step is to pull all the information together into one user-friendly document, a conversation that has started at City Hall.

This boots-on-the-ground effort in neighborhoods has also been driven by individuals, at the mayor's direction. More than 2,500 citizens have attended meetings or participated in some way in describing what they want to see in a new zoning code. The city's planning consultant, Camiros, based in Chicago, and Boston-based Goody Clancy have given officials high praise for the level of public participation.

A draft of the code is due in June. After input from a series of public meetings, a final version should be ready for Common Council action in November.

The revised code will create a better city for residents while improving the climate for vital new business. It is well worth the effort.