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Buffalo listens as concerned citizens help draw up the city’s new Green Code

The City of Buffalo’s Green Code has undergone more scrutiny, revision and debate than any one set of rules in memory.

This document will shape the city’s framework – its building standards and approval procedures – for the next couple of decades. It is with that in mind that the Green Code, officially the Unified Development Ordinance, was filed recently with the Common Council. It had roughly 100 revisions in response to hundreds of public comments following a lengthy public review process.

The project was launched in April 2010 by Mayor Byron W. Brown. His staff, led by Brendan Mehaffy, executive director of the Office of Strategic Planning, worked hard to create opportunities for the public to have its say through more than 230 meetings, not including informal meetings in people’s dining rooms and other small engagements.

The Green Code updates Buffalo’s antiquated zoning code and land use policies. The old code, with its 1,802 pages, dates to 1953. The new, 332-page code will overhaul the city’s land use plans for the first time since 1977. Building on the city’s comprehensive plan passed in 2006, it spells out the zoning and land planning for the city’s 94,000 parcels in 24 neighborhoods, districts and corridors. No more suburban sprawl in the city. It hews to urban dynamism and smart-growth principles.

As with any comprehensive document, few people are likely to be completely satisfied. But it was created in an open, transparent and responsive process, developing a document that the public should be able to embrace and celebrate.

For example, Elmwood Village residents have been vocal about the size of buildings as the neighborhood has grown into an interesting mix of small businesses, cafes and restaurants. Neighbors understandably get alarmed at the specter of big-box anything, and some development proposals have already raised the ire of residents.

Under the latest draft of the code, building heights would be limited to three stories if the right of way is less than 80 feet, and can rise to five stories if the right of way is more than 80 feet. In addition, the maximum size for commercial spaces would drop from 10,000 square feet to 3,500.

The Outer Harbor, meanwhile, is the hot-button development talk of the day, where passions have been running hot. Those interested include average citizens, environmentalists, preservationists, developers and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. The latest draft sharply limits the space available for such development as restaurants, stores or amusement facilities.

The city also listened to residents of the Fruit Belt who wanted the Green Code to limit building heights. Even though no developer has proposed tall buildings there, given the neighborhood’s proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus such development seemed inevitable. The Green Code obliged by restricting buildings to three stories as opposed to the five stories in the original proposal.

The revisions sent to the Common Council represent just the latest round of fine-tuning and polishing. Next, the Council will review the Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement. When that is accepted, members can start legislative hearings on final adoption.

The Green Code is being shaped by the residents for the greatest good for the city – a good sign for Buffalo’s future.

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