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Elmwood Village plan headed to Council vote

Buffalo's Planning Board is raising some concerns about efforts to impose new design standards for future development in the Elmwood Village.

The new restrictions might foster a "cookie-cutter approach" to development along a successful commercial strip, city planners warned.

In a three-page critique, the board also raised fears that new rules governing parking lots and demolitions could have a negative impact on quality of life on residential streets near Elmwood.

But North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., who is sponsoring the plan, said he will push for passage at Tuesday's meeting. He said the Planning Board has had the proposal for a year, and if it wants to propose amendments, changes will be considered at a later time.

Golombek added that the sweeping design standards have been the focus of a decade-long review that involved input from 300 residents and business owners.

"Enough is enough," he said. "Hopefully, it will be approved next week." If approved, new projects would have to be built close to sidewalks, parking lots would be restricted to the rear of buildings, and developers would be prodded to build mixed-use projects that would include upper-floor apartments over businesses.

The plan also would impose new restrictions on demolitions, call for tougher public notification procedures before development occurs and would enact dozens of design mandates.

The Planning Board can only recommend changes, but its opinions typically carry weight in the Council. The board is challenging the claim that the new mandates will encourage "creativity and eclecticism" along Elmwood.

"The Planning Board believes some of the sections requiring, rather than suggesting, specific design criteria is actually forcing a 'cookie cutter' approach to the street [by] prohibiting certain types of materials," planners wrote.

Requiring every parking lot to be located behind buildings is impractical in some instances and will only force commercial parking onto residential streets, the board warned. Allowing parking lots on the sides of buildings is not always a negative if done properly, planners argued.

The board raised more than a dozen issues that range from ambiguous wording of provisions to prohibitions of signs on awnings.

"A tastefully done awning or canopy with a business name should be acceptable," the board asserted.

The Elmwood Village Design Standards District would include all commercial properties from the north side of North Street to Forest Avenue, extending to the east side of Richmond Avenue, and to the west side of Delaware Avenue.

Justin Azzarella, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association, met this week with lawmakers when he encouraged them to approve the plan.

"We have seen there is widespread support for this change," he said.

Mayor Byron W. Brown also supports the new design standards, spokesman Peter K. Cutler said Thursday. "But the mayor also thinks the Planning Board's concerns should be carefully considered."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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