By Arthur J. Giacalone
The Elmwood Village Association (EVA) sponsored an information forum on the Green Code, Buffalo’s proposed zoning and development ordinance. I left the meeting concerned that no one – not the EVA, city planning staff or Council members – is looking out for the needs of city residents. Here are some examples:
1.) It’s easy to joke about the age of the city’s current zoning law. But one fact is clear: Under the existing zoning laws, the Elmwood Village has thrived as a place to live, shop and visit. The Green Code would eliminate many of the zoning restrictions embodied in the Elmwood Avenue Business District code that have worked to keep a compatible balance between the interests of residents and businesses.
2.) The city planning staff and the EVA seem determined to eliminate the maximum square footage provisions that have protected the scale and character of the Elmwood Village. Now, a single business is limited to 2,500 square feet on a single floor, or 5,000 square feet in a single building. These provisions have kept large retail stores from entering the Elmwood Village and draining the life from the local shops that are the essence of Elmwood Avenue.
Inexplicably, the EVA’s board of directors has provided written support for a 75-foot-tall, 200,000-square-foot “mixed use” development at the corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues.
3.) The city’s planning staff speaks of a Green Code that reflects the “genetic code” of the Elmwood Village, and the city’s desire to avoid unnecessary demolitions. But a provision in the Elmwood Village design standards that expressly discouraged the demolition of any structure (except for public health or safety reasons) was deleted from the zoning code last summer by the Common Council. And no mention was made of the fact that the EVA-endorsed project at Elmwood and Forest would demolish 10 century-old buildings that embody the Elmwood Village DNA.
4.) The EVA and city support the elimination of minimum off-street parking requirements for businesses. They speak of “market driven” parking, where the developer decides how much parking to provide, and where all off-street parking is located to the rear of the building. This approach benefits businesses, which can construct bigger buildings on their lots, but it pushes on-street parking to the neighboring residential streets. And while locating unsightly parking lots to the rear of buildings might improve Elmwood Avenue aesthetics, it brings the noise, lights and loss of privacy associated with commercial activities even closer to nearby residences.
It appears that Elmwood Village residents need their own association to protect their unique interests.
Arthur J. Giacalone of East Aurora is a former resident of the Elmwood Village and an attorney whose practice has focused on zoning and land use law for more than two decades.