Residents of Buffalo’s Elmwood Village worked for years to get a set of rules to protect the look of the neighborhood as new buildings are constructed or old ones are updated.
A proposed citywide development code would rewrite those special rules for Elmwood, updating standards for how buildings should be designed and spreading those rules to other city neighborhoods, including Grant Street and Jefferson Avenue.
“We want to take everything that’s worked so well on Elmwood Avenue and take that both to the next level on Elmwood Avenue and export those standards to other places in the city,” said Chris Hawley, an urban planner for the city.
But some residents in the neighborhood are concerned the new rules would water down the building design standards already in place in the Elmwood Village.
“We want to keep the scale and the character of our neighborhood, and what you’re proposing doesn’t always do that,” Susan M. Davis told city planners Saturday.
Davis was one of about 100 people who attended a meeting in Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church organized by the Elmwood Village Association and the city’s Office of Strategic Planning to explain how the city’s proposed new zoning codes – known as “Buffalo Green Code” – would affect the neighborhood.
The proposed rules would impact what can be built throughout Buffalo – from whether a corner store could open up to what kind of sign could be placed on the sidewalk outside a business. The meeting Saturday was one of dozens the city has held in an effort to address concerns before the new code is rolled out in the coming months for full public view.
Hawley told residents that planners wrote the new development standards to reflect neighborhoods as they already exist. In the Elmwood Village, he said, the goal was to incorporate the neighborhood’s existing design standards, but update those that haven’t worked.
“What we discovered through the Green Code process was there were a lot of loopholes in the Elmwood Village design standards that we can close and a lot of things that we can improve,” Hawley said.
Among the proposals aired Saturday was a plan to eliminate rules that require buildings throughout the city to have a minimum number of parking spaces. Instead, developers would decide how many spaces they need, but would have to adhere to design guidelines for where those parking spaces could be located.
“Preservationists have told us that this mandatory off-street parking requirement is an incentive to demolish buildings for parking,” Hawley said.
Residents also expressed concern about a proposal to eliminate a requirement that limits the size of the first floor of a retail business in the Elmwood Village to less than 2,500 square feet without special permission. Hawley said the city is working to determine what the maximum size should be.
Amber Small urged the city to look at other ways – such as adding municipal lots – to alleviate limited parking in commercial areas that spills onto residential streets.
“I think that a business should have the right to determine how many spaces it needs for its customers,” Small said. “But I live down the street on Lafayette Avenue, and I’m sure that all my neighbors can attest that in the summer months, finding parking near my house is almost impossible.”
Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the city’s Office of Strategic Planning, said planners working on the Green Code would seek to incorporate concerns raised by residents as they move forward.
“We’ve got a lot of good information from people that I think will lead to changes before the public draft comes out,” Mehaffy said.