By Arthur J. Giacalone
While the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) was convening its annual conference in the Queen City the first week of June, a Buffalo News editorial described Mayor Byron Brown’s Buffalo Green Code as the “proposed, urbanism-influenced zoning code that could soon be a national model.”
Unfortunately, the latest version of Buffalo’s zoning and development ordinance is worthy of imitation only if you are a government entity that enjoys talking “new urbanism” or “smart growth” while continuing to make development decisions based on political considerations rather than sound planning principles.
As CNU members were traversing Buffalo’s streets, the Brown administration issued its “Buffalo Waterfront Plan” as part of the Green Code process. Although the text of the 178-page document fails to mention it, changes had been quietly made to the proposed zoning code that would allow Carl Paladino’s company, Ellicott Development, to proceed with its plans to construct a massive project known as “The Carlo” on prime waterfront property – a parcel of land owned by the City of Buffalo’s Urban Renewal Agency and located across Erie Street from the Marine Drive Apartments, a stone’s throw from upscale townhome complexes such as Gull Landing.
As currently envisioned, Paladino’s project includes a 14-story tower, 143 hotel rooms, a banquet facility, office space, apartments, two restaurants, retail space and a parking ramp – in excess of a half-million-square feet in all. The version of the Buffalo Green Code released to the public in the spring of 2012 did not allow such a massive structure at this valuable waterfront parcel. Towers, defined as a building in excess of 12 stories, were specifically excluded. Moreover, the BGC’s “vision” for such “downtown edge” sites consisted of connected, moderate-scale mixed-use buildings with pedestrian-oriented frontages, not a stand-alone tower.
In contrast, the “Building Types” table included in the May 2014 version of the draft Green Code allows construction of towers in the “neighborhood district” proposed for the site of the Carlo. This significant change is not mentioned in the accompanying text.
The Brown administration appears to have elevated politics over informed, objective planning principles. In doing so, the draft Buffalo Green Code strays from “the path of smart growth, people-first development and preservation of the neighborhoods.” It also deprives the people living across the street from the proposed site of the Carlo in the 600-unit Marine Drive Apartments, as well as the owners and residents in the nearby townhouses and condominium developments, of any meaningful say in the future of their neighborhood.
Arthur J. Giacalone is a semi-retired lawyer who comments about land use and environmental issues at http://WithAllDueRespectBlog.com.