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Another Voice: Elmwood Village needs limits on building heights

By Martin Littlefield

The Buffalo News recently published an editorial stating that overly restrictive zoning regulations block growth that the city needs. Relative to the Elmwood Village, it goes on to say: “The Green Code – which has not yet taken effect – tightens height restrictions from the current reasonable limit of five stories.”

This latter statement is incorrect. Under the existing Elmwood Village design standards, new buildings have a range of two to five stories, subject to matching the height of adjacent buildings.

The Elmwood Avenue business district ordinance limits stand-alone buildings to 40 feet (three stories). For both the Chason and Ciminelli projects, there is no building in the Elmwood Village within eight blocks that exceeds three stories (except for the new Ellicott Development project of four stories).

The Green Code also limits Elmwood Village building height to three stories. Further, the city’s Office of Strategic Planning has made specific findings that the very attraction of the Elmwood Village was its reduced scale and that a three-story limit is most appropriate in order to “protect the scale of the neighborhood.”

Clearly, both of the projects would bring additional “density” to the Elmwood Village – however, more density is not appropriate for the Elmwood Village. Development that is out of character, style and scale for the Elmwood Village is not good development.

The editorial states that requiring developers to go through a “process to seek a variance” is unfair to the developers, notwithstanding that such a process is exactly what the city has determined is best for the community. The editorial takes no account of how unfair it would be to village residents that developers can change the fabric of their neighborhood without oversight and close review.

We would agree with the current dogma that, as a general proposition, urban development should be at considerably higher densities than previous suburban development. That does not mean that higher density is always better than existing density in older sections of a city.

And it certainly does not mean that out-of-scale structures should be permitted in a thriving historic district that owes its character and style to the relatively modest scale of existing buildings.

There can be no doubt that many parts of the city need density for all the reasons the editorial cites. Efforts by The News editorial board and other entities should be directed to fulfilling that goal throughout the city.

Building “up” Elmwood with high-priced apartments and condos removes affordable housing from our neighborhood, while also taking away investment dollars from other parts of the city that so desperately need a boost.

Elmwood Village residents are merely trying to maintain the very thing to which so many are attracted – its scale, character and style.

Martin Littlefield is chairman of the Elmwood Village Green Code Working Group.

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