Buffalo Ditches Zoning

Maybe a city has to hit rock bottom before it actually practices “innovation” rather than just preaching it.  If so, we’re not ready to be innovative….and that’s a shame because we could really use it.
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Buffalo Green Code: Mayor Brown announces zoning code overhaul

Buffalo Green Code: Mayor Brown announces zoning code overhaul EB_Blue April 23, 2010 9:12 AM Comments: 7 Mayor Byron Brown announced today his administration is moving forward on implementing a green, form-based code in Buffalo.

Mayor Brown chose the Larkin District as the backdrop to announce his Earth Day plans for what he’s dubbing the “Buffalo Green Code,” a replacement code that will completely scrap Buffalo’s existing zoning ordinance, an unwieldy document last updated in 1951.

Listen to the podcast from today’s event here.

“Our zoning reform effort will act as the foundation for the new place-based economic development strategy for Buffalo’s neighborhoods in every section of the city,” the Mayor said. “The new Buffalo zoning ordinance will be known as the Buffalo Green Code. It will embody 21st century values about economic development, sustainability, and walkable, green urbanism.”

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The announcement sets the stage for Buffalo to join a progressive vanguard of cities – including Denver and Miami – that are replacing conventional, use-based codes with streamlined, form-based regulations built to encourage mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Buffalo’s new Green Code is also intended to support economic development by simplifying and shortening the development review process.

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“The new Buffalo Green Code will be the first opportunity Buffalonians have had in nearly sixty years to establish a new regulatory framework for the development of our neighborhoods,” said Brown. “Zoning is the tool by which we build our communities. It determines what gets built and where. It’s essentially Buffalo’s DNA. The process to re-imagine the city’s future and write a code that matches the community’s vision will be an exciting opportunity for the people of Buffalo. As this process gets rolled out, over a period we expect to take three years of serious work, I invite all citizens in every section of the city to participate and take an active role. We need your help and we need your input.”

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The Mayor was joined by a cadre of planning staff and citizen supporters, including Howard Zemsky of the Larkin Development Group and Rev. Darius Pridgen of True Bethel Baptist Church. On hand to describe how the process will unfold was Jacques Gourguechon, the principal of the renowned Chicago planning firm, Camiros,which is partnering with Boston-based Goody Clancy to write Buffalo’s new code. “I love the term the ‘Green Code’ that the Mayor is using,” said Gourguechon. “I think that this is exactly our philosophy in how we’re going to look at this.”

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The Larkin District, now undergoing millions of dollars in mixed-use redevelopment, was described by Zemsky as one of the acute examples in the city of the disparity between the outmoded mandates of the 1951 zoning code and the community’s vision. “It’s great we’re going to have a new zoning code that puts people and sustainability and livability and quality of life ahead of the automobile,” said Zemsky. “We couldn’t be happier. We hoped when we started this project that we would have a Mayor that would embrace a visionary rewrite of the 1951 code and I think we should all be very grateful that we clearly do.”

Special thanks to David Torke for these images and for recording the podcast. Check out Torke’s slideshow for more images from today’s event.

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6 Comments

Filed under New World Planning, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Buffalo Ditches Zoning

  1. Tim

    So Steve, do you think form-based zoning codes are better than no zoning, or should we go no zoning?

    • steveaustinlex

      Zoning segregates human activity – that means distance – and in the peak oil world in which we live, distance sux….so zoning per se is over.

      That said, while form based codes are somewhat better, they do assume a lot of new building, which I dont think will happen. Large scale new building requires a lot of debt. The repayment of debt needs economic growth. Growth needs cheap energy. And as you know, energy is never going to be cheaper than it is right now. So, expensive energy = constrained growth = limited credit = less building.

      So we are going to need a way to deal with the transition of what we have today. For example, what was once purely single family suburbia is already evolving. Farms, distribution centers (eBay), manufacturing, professional offices all are cropping up. Empty strip malls will transform into multi-use centers. How do we best deal with that?

  2. Tim

    I see your thought process. I mean, call me naive, but I still look back to the garden city concept in general for form, and say that, rather than “zones of uses” we have zones of density, and essentially allow the uses in those zones to vary, but not contain god-awful coal plants, or other serious health/environmentally-problematic uses.

    Doesn’t it seem that we are at a point where we need to go back to the 1/4-1/2 mile radius measurement, and start delineating these density nodes in Lex, and start densifying? And so, these greater density areas (as you noted, most likely focusing around existing shopping complexes–Hamburg, Lex Mall, Turfland Mall, Beaumont, Alexandria Krogers, Eastland, Woodland, Richmond Rd, Lexington Ice Center, Tates Creek Center, Hartland Center, Park Hills, and so forth) become multi-use, multi-level, urban density “zones.” So clearly, we aren’t going to be able to think about drastically increasing lot sized-based densities around these areas, but over time, their shotty building methods will lead to redevelopment and densification around these nodes.

    But then, what incentives can we give to encourage developers to go after these areas? Tax breaks? Do you think that developers are turning towards these areas naturally?

    I read recently that, in Florida, developers are building greenfield developments again, but just smaller houses on smaller lots…I am still struggling to see our renown Bluegrass developers breaking their addictions to greenfield development, and focusing on redevelopment–and the conditions are even right for it!

    • steveaustinlex

      in theory everything you’re saying makes a lot of sense – but I think that you’re assuming that the economy will allow that stuff to happen – I dont think it will – the type of planning you describe is over – the best we can do is small retro fits of suburbia – we’ve got the city we’ve got as we go thru transition….

      • Tim

        Right–that’s what I was trying to communicate, ha. Definitely, just taking the locations we have, and envisioning them as denser–develop a parking lot here, put two floors on a retail center there…yeah, not doing all those things at once and making it happen in a short time frame. I’m visualizing this stuff happening over, say, 20 years (as long as greenfield development is very minimal).

      • steveaustinlex

        cool – that’t the way to think of it…greenfield is over as far as I can see…the lack of credit, the cost of gas, etc….

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