By Charles Gordon and Jocelyn Gordon
Building dense, lively mixed-use neighborhoods involves tackling complicated issues. In a previous essay we outlined several long-term recommendations for a parking solution that would enhance the Elmwood Village.
Programming for density – i.e. creating economic development – also implies planning for higher and better land uses. If we build a denser Elmwood Village, we need better land use planning, a complicated subject that is central to the new Buffalo Green Code. Higher density implies eliminating, or at least reducing, the number of corner parking lots on Elmwood between Allen Street and Forest Avenue. These corner parking lots are small, inefficient, create unsafe walking conditions, fracture the streetscape continuity and are just plain unattractive.
New parking, walking and cycling options for Elmwood Village are all part of the “complete streets” concept embedded in the soon-to-be-adopted Green Code, the 21st century update to Buffalo’s ancient zoning code. New parking alternatives might include two to three discretely placed, judiciously planned multi-level parking structures, likely part of some mixed-use structure. These alternatives fit right in with the “complete streets” concept.
However, another, legitimate school of thought considers Elmwood Village to be “maxed-out.” Some believe that those seeking increased density should instead look to fill in other neighborhood business districts such as Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo and Grant Street in Black Rock.
A long-standing attempt to complete a mixed-use project at Elmwood and Forest bears witness to this debate. After several years, the Elmwood Forest Gateway mixed-use project is still foundering in the courts. The project embraces all Green Code principles and is endorsed by the City of Buffalo, the Elmwood Village Association, the Albright Knox and Burchfield Penney art galleries and the majority of surrounding residents.
Yet a small segment of the surrounding neighborhood continues to argue – with the full weight of a nearly 150-year-old legal deed restriction that effectively prohibits mixed-use as effective leverage – that demolishing a whole row of existing residentially scaled houses would damage the character of the neighborhood.
Progress and change, while essential and inevitable, can be painful too. Preserving the character of a neighborhood is important. Part of this character includes its old buildings.
How can we strike the right balance? Progressive zoning that promotes a “complete streets” approach is a valuable tool that can establish the connective tissue between Elmwood Village’s historic past and its future.
Charles Gordon is principal of Charles Gordon Architecture. Jocelyn Gordon is an urban planner and MBA.