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New Green Code provides a road map for a city on the move

When the Brown administration handed the Common Council a sheaf of papers to review, it marked the culmination of years of work in updating Buffalo’s antiquated zoning rules.

The Green Code, as the regulations are known, holds the promise of assisting the city’s comeback. It is designed to simplify the complicated, making predictable what was once unpredictable for homeowners, developers, investors and small-business owners. Brendan Mehaffy, who heads the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, said, “It’s the DNA for the entire city.”

City living, the new urbanism, has taken on added significance throughout the country. The rush to the suburbs has slowed and now the flow is turning back downtown. The emphasis is on renewal, rehabilitation, repurposing and revival.

The old code, a 1,802-page compilation rivaling “War and Peace” in denseness, has been boiled down to a more manageable size – 322 pages – without sacrificing the fine points.

The Green Code, or Unified Development Ordinance, spells out the zoning and land planning for the city’s 94,000 parcels in 24 neighborhoods, districts and corridors.

This document replaces a mostly suburban zoning and land use model with modern urban standards. Buffalo will increasingly be known as one of the progressive, 21st century cities emphasizing accessible neighborhoods, environmental sustainability, mixed-use development and mass transit.

The code will overhaul the city’s land use plans for the first time since 1977. The plan incorporates ideas from many sources, including the University at Buffalo’s UB 2020 plan, SUNY Buffalo State’s Master Plan and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s most recent analysis of bus routes. From brownfields to vacant parcels and the waterfront, the plan incorporates and addresses a city on the move.

Buffalo is joining Denver, Miami and Cincinnati as cities with codes that are deemed “form-based,” referring to the appropriate form and scale of development.

Work on the code started in April 2010. Outreach has stretched into every Common Council district, into the business community and included the immigrant, refugee and disabled communities. As one would expect in the 21st century, social media was involved, with Facebook, Twitter and a website all involved.

It’s not over. The review process within the Common Council includes chances for public input. That process is expected to extend into spring with final approval possible by June.

By the time all is said and done, Buffalo will have a model zoning code in synch with a city moving in the right direction.