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Neighborhood integrity is top concern at hearing; Residents of Elmwood Village offer input on proposed update to City Code

The chief concern among residents of the Elmwood Village over a proposed comprehensive update to the City Code is maintaining the character and integrity of their neighborhood.

City officials say the new code is meant to do just that.

"The entire intent is to reinforce the fabric of the neighborhood," said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Strategic Planning.

Residents came out to voice their concerns and ask questions Monday night at a public open house in Lafayette High School designed to provide feedback to city leaders and a consultant crafting what some are calling the "Green Code."

This is the first time the City Code will be comprehensively revamped since 1953, and the first changes to land-use planning since 1977. The new code will be designed to embrace a progressive urban planning model and streamline the development process.

Maintaining the look and feel of the Elmwood Village, and a possible elimination of minimum parking requirements for new development were top points of discussion during the latest of several planned public gatherings.

Elmwood Village resident Daniel Sack said he wanted to make sure the new codes wouldn't compromise the strict design standards already in place.

"They were years in the making and had a great deal of community input," he said.

A main goal of the new land-use document is to take the aesthetics and atmosphere of each city neighborhood and use them to write codes that ensure new buildings add to the neighborhood's cohesiveness, said Arista Strungys, principal consultant for Camiros, the consulting company hired by the city.

Some residents worry that is an empty promise.

Charles F. Stiffler, of the Elmwood Village, said he thinks the proposal is anti-citizen and pro-development. "This entire plan is designed to remove the voice of the people of Buffalo," he said. He lacked confidence that the city or developers would take the voices of the people into consideration.

Like Slack, he expressed a desire to maintain the atmosphere of the neighborhood. He also cited no minimum parking requirements, a goal to increase the neighborhood's density and a focus on mass transportation as concerns over the proposal.

On parking, Mehaffy said 95 percent of citizens supported eliminating minimum parking requirements at the last public meeting. It was important to hear people speak in favor of the requirements at Monday's meeting, he said, because the intent of the meetings is to gauge public opinion and come up with the best solution.

Jenifer Kominsky, a resident of the West Side, supported the elimination of parking minimums and a proposal for bike parking. "So much land in Buffalo is taken over by parking lots," she said.

Monday night's meeting was one of nine to be held this month in neighborhoods throughout the city. The meetings begin with a presentation, then break out into stations that offer specifics on various aspects of the proposal and offer citizens a chance to share concerns one-on-one. The city and the consulting firm will revise the proposal based on feedback and bring it back to citizens in August. They hope to have a final proposal by November.

Said Mehaffy: "We're really getting to where the rubber meets the road at this time."

The next open house takes place from 6 to 8:30 p.m. today in South Park High School, 150 Southside Parkway.