BUFFALO, NY – With the stroke of a pen, Mayor Byron Brown formally enacted the city’s “Green Code”, reflecting the first major overhaul of city zoning laws since 1953.
The legislation comes about after 245 public meetings held over the course of nearly seven years.
Supporters say the green code will encourage preservation and promote walk-able city neighborhoods among other things.
But at the same time, it is a series of codes like any other-- subject to interpretation, and how strictly it will be enforced.
“Zoning codes generally are the development DNA for a city," said Brendan R. Mehaffy, Executive Director of the city's Office of Strategic Planning, who came into the job at about the time the Green Code was first proposed, and who was charged with shepherding it to fruition.
By adopting the "Green Code”, Buffalo joins Denver and Miami as the only major U.S. cities, with zoning codes that are “form based".
“Essentially, it involves more of what the building looks like,” Mehaffy told WGRZ-TV.
“A lot of the old codes focused a little bit more on the use, and not as much on the form. So in a historic city like Buffalo it’s important to look at what's already in the neighborhood," Mehaffy said.
Under the new “development DNA”, those who seek to build something new will have to more carefully align it with what already exists in a given neighborhood.
Prior to the adoption of the Green Code, explained Mehaffy, “You could have had something built in a neighborhood, and it sticks out like a sore thumb, and that's what we heard the community talking about quite a bit and what we sought to address.”
The Green Code, when it goes into effect in February, will not impact developments which have already been approved.
“If they have all their approvals they're set," confirmed Mehaffy.
And even in cases where plans have not gotten complete approval, such as in the case of a couple of controversial developments proposed in the Elmwood Village, developers can always seek --and obtain, a variance.
However, Mehaffy told Channel 2 News that the developers of the Elmwood projects, and others throughout the city, knowing the green code would eventually be adopted, have been trying to conform to it in their design plans.
“We started hearing developers saying they were designing to the green code two years ago,” said Mehaffy. “They understood that the community had been so involved in the process, that they wanted to follow the standards being created because they knew they had a lot of community input."
Mayor Brown’s signing ceremony was held in the virtually vacant One Seneca Tower, the city’s tallest building, for largely symbolic reasons, according to a city hall spokesperson.
Seven years ago, when the process began and the building was still occupied, it was the sight of the very first public meeting on the proposed Green Code.