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Proponents argue case for design standards

A plan that would impose strict new design standards on projects in the Elmwood Village was presented to Common Council members Tuesday, capping off a decadelong effort by neighborhood advocates.

Speakers at a public hearing in City Hall said the effort aimed to prevent the type of "suburban-style" development that has occurred in some other areas, including the Delaware-Hertel corridor. The distinctive Elmwood Strip should never take on the aura of a Union Road, they argued.

If approved by city officials, new projects along Elmwood would have to be built close to sidewalks. Buildings couldn't have parking lots in front of their facades. The design standards also would favor mixed-use projects that would include upper-floor residences over businesses.

Before structures could be demolished, property owners would have to submit reuse plans for the land. Strong community-notification requirements would include posting signs on properties to alert people to development plans.

The proposed design standards were crafted with suggestions from 300 residents and business owners, said Justin Azzarella, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association.

Daniel Sack, an Elmwood Village resident who sits on the association's design committee, denied that the new rules could hinder economic development. He also highlighted figures showing that carefully planned projects along a business strip like Elmwood have greater economic value per acre than big-box developments or buildings with sprawling parking lots.

"It's not simply about aesthetics," he said. "It's about the . . . economic value of the land."

The Rev. Drew Ludwig of Lafayette Presbyterian Church urged city officials to adopt the new regulations. "These design standards will keep the Elmwood Village as the fantastic neighborhood that it already is," he said.

Every speaker at Tuesday's hearing voiced support for the new regulations. Some noted that in 2007, the Elmwood Village was christened one of the "10 great neighborhoods in America" by the American Planning Association.

Others underscored the importance of making sure that any development takes into account pedestrians and bicyclists.

"This is a community [that] likes to walk and likes to enjoy the vitality of the street," said Karl Frizlen, an architect and a member of the association's design panel.

Mayor Byron W. Brown recently announced plans for a citywide update of what some have branded antiquated zoning codes. But advocates urged Council members to approve the new standards for Elmwood, saying that waiting one or two years for a citywide revamping of codes makes no sense.

North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who represents part of the Elmwood Strip, predicted lawmakers will approve the plan, noting that the design standards have been thoroughly debated since the late 1990s.

"I'm embarrassed to say it has taken this long," he said.

Most of the commercial activity on what is considered the Elmwood Strip stretches from North Street to Forest Avenue.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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