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Another Voice: Will the city enforce its new zoning regulations?

By Gretchen Cercone

In a Dec. 28 editorial, The News  lauded the impending passage of Buffalo’s updated Unified Development Ordinance, better known as the Green Code.

It was hailed as promoting everything from “walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use developments and historic character to environmental sustainability and mass transit.”

Two months later, the code has now become the law of the land. The question is: Will the city stand up to developers and reject projects that do not comply?

The Elmwood Village is facing multiple development projects designed with flagrant disregard of the Green Code for this part of the city. Much has been made of Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s modification of the Reverie project from five stories to four (still one story taller than what is permitted under the Green Code). But what the community knows is that there is much more to this debate than the height of the building.

Reverie is planned to be more than twice the length of what is permitted under the Green Code. In addition, despite the fact that the code allows only two properties to be combined for the purposes of building a new structure, Reverie requires the amalgamation of at least seven city lots on Elmwood, Potomac and Ashland avenues.

The intention behind the new zoning regulation was to prevent a huge structure the equivalent of a cruise ship being dropped down into a historic neighborhood. Unfortunately, the current project proposes exactly that, which is why it should be rejected by the city’s Planning and Zoning boards.

Not only does Ciminelli Real Estate’s project impact the business district on Elmwood, it will have an enormous impact on side streets. It defies logic that a fully occupied multifamily home on Ashland Avenue is slated for demolition, proposed to be replaced by a structure with a virtually identical footprint to what is already there. Another fully occupied multifamily home, also listed as a contributing structure for the Elmwood West National Register Historic District, is proposed to be demolished to serve as an unnecessary second driveway for Reverie residents.

Residents of the Elmwood Village do not oppose development. In fact, there is currently enthusiastic support for a project at the corner of Lancaster and Delaware, which will restore a home designed by E.B. Green into a boutique hotel.

If Ciminelli Real Estate and other developers sought to understand the philosophy behind the Green Code in this neighborhood, they would put forth a proposal that does not require needless demolitions of historic structures and is designed with the scale of existing buildings in mind. Until then, our elected officials and the city’s Office of Strategic Planning must be held accountable for enforcing the Green Code.

Reverie is a litmus test that will demonstrate if the city is serious about the Green Code or whether it is simply an impressive document sitting on a shelf to be ignored and undermined at every turn with one substantial variance after the next.

Gretchen Cercone is a member of Residents of the Elmwood Village Task Force and president of the Lancaster/Melbourne Block Club.

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