The Green Code is finally final. The Buffalo Common Council made it official by unanimously approving the new zoning regulations. The code is a boost for the city’s effort to keep moving forward by promoting, as The News reported, everything from “walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use developments and historic character to environmental sustainability and mass transit.”
In other words, improving the quality of life and all the things that make urban living special.
The Green Code has undergone intense scrutiny since it was launched in April 2010 by Mayor Byron W. Brown, with more than 230 public meetings, much public debate and many revisions.
Still, not everyone is going to like everything in the Green Code. It has many valuable provisions and some, to be sure, that could be improved upon. But that is typical of any document that is the product of many compromises, much less one of this historic magnitude.
Buffalo joined Denver and Miami in undertaking such a complete rethinking of development, getting away from a suburban-like model to one with a distinctly urban feel. The Green Code, or Unified Development Ordinance, is proof of the city’s determination to maintain its newfound momentum.
Brown and his planning staff, headed by Brendan R. Mehaffy, well deserved the round of applause they received in Council Chambers following approval of the code. They kept at the enormous project, incorporating information from the University at Buffalo’s 20/20 Plan, SUNY Buffalo State’s master plan and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s most recent analysis of bus routes, along with updates to planning documents for brownfields and vacant parcels.
It has been a slow process, but for good reason. The old code dates back to 1953, when it regulated a very different Buffalo. The old code numbered 1,802 pages; the new one comes in at 338 pages. It builds on the city’s comprehensive plan passed in 2006, and spells out zoning and land planning for the city’s 94,000 parcels in 24 neighborhoods, districts and corridors.
This new code embraces the concept of urban living being seen across the country. The old code set parking requirements on the assumption that everyone travels by car – the suburban model. The Green Code recognizes that people have many ways to get around: walking, bicycles, mass transit, car sharing and, eventually, ride hailing.
Therefore the code’s biggest change is the elimination of minimum parking standards. Instead of the current system that sets parking requirements based on a complex formula, the Green Code calls for a parking analysis for each project of more than 5,000 square feet.
There will be more public input on the subject of streets; proposals for the right of way will be examined as part of the Planning Board review process, another first. Other new provisions involve technological advances – addressing solar panels and wind power – and such new industries as brewing craft beers.
The Outer Harbor is addressed. The Green Code calls for 90 percent to remain as greenspace.
The code does unnecessarily limit development along Elmwood Avenue, but that and other quibbles cannot dim this immense achievement by the city. The Green Code is ready for the mayor’s signature. Finally.