The first overhaul of the City Code in 63 years, if approved, would help shape what Buffalo looks like in coming decades. The document was filed Thursday with the Common Council, after about 100 revisions made in response to hundreds of public comments following a public review process.
The main concerns dealt with building heights, how much development to allow on the Outer Harbor, maximum square footage for commercial development, and parking and density requirements.
“We have worked with the community in an open and transparent process,” said Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, which began the Green Code process in April 2010.
He said there were 230 public meetings held, and 20 more this year by council members.
“This has been a massive commitment of the mayor’s staff and the council members and their staff,” he said. “We all have taken this very seriously because we realize this is the blueprint for development in the city over the next 20 years.”
The Green Code – formally called the Unified Development Ordinance – began in April 2016. It employs plainer language and easy-to-understand graphics to replace the current 1,802-page code that has long frustrated homeowners and developers alike.
The new code moves away from a suburban-oriented model of development. It prioritizes accessible neighbors, mixed developments, environmental sustainability, historic character and mass transit.
Among the changes in the code since the earlier draft:
• Building heights would be limited to three stories if the right of way is below 80 feet, and can rise to five stories if the right of way is above 80 feet. Residents in the Elmwood and Fruit Belt neighborhoods voiced concerns about building heights.
• Square footage for commercial spaces would drop from 10,000 square feet to 3,500 feet in the Elmwood neighborhood. Some resident had feared a larger footprint would open the door to chain stores.
• Ten percent of parcels on the Outer Harbor would be allowed non-residential development such as a restaurant, store or amusement facility. The draft called for 25 percent. Future residential development would be restricted to a parcel near Wilkeson Pointe, where a marina now operates.
• New density standards would limit the number of residential units that could be built on residential streets across the city. This was not an issue addressed in the earlier draft.
• While replacing the auto-based parking model in the current code, a transportation study would be required for projects of 5,000-square-feet or more. It was previously 10,000 feet.
• An application for demolition in a state or federal historic district would need an approved plan before the request would be granted. That is expected to help preserve historic buildings.
Council President Darius Pridgen praised the process, saying he looks forward to seeing the Green Code in effect before the next construction season.
The Common Council must approve the new code before it can take effect.
“The process to get to this point with the Green Code has involved more community input than I’ve seen at City Hall in my lifetime when it comes to zoning or any type of law,” Pridgen said. “I hope to see it move swiftly.”