Buffalo's new Green Code far from settled

Nov 15, 2016

While the debate is over approval of the Green Code, Monday night's protest rally and then Common Council hearing show the over-arching plan for Buffalo's new zoning and development rules is subject to attack on the specifics.

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

The Green Code runs around 1,000 pages of painfully specific rules and guidelines. During Monday's hearing, the issues were the rules for development in the Outer Harbor, toughened rules on development in the Elmwood Village and demands for much more affordable housing.

Councilmembers say there will be new rules requiring affordable housing in new developments, but the percentage has not been decided yet.

Lawyer Martin Littlefield is chairman of Councilmember Joel Feroleto's Working Group on the Green Code. Littlefield does not want some controversial projects allowed to go forward, grandfathered in.

"The Chason project, which is five stories and 300 feet long, consisting of up to, I understand, 50 units and the Ciminelli project, which consists of 90 apartments and two blocks, tearing down property. The transition language should be changed that only those projects that have been fully approved by the Common Council and construction has begun should be grandfathered into the Green Code," Littlefield said.
 

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

That may be affected by how fast the Green Code is passed by the Council. If there has been a groundbreaking, there may not be a legal way to stop the two massive projects. Development lawyer Adam Walters said those projects should not be stopped.
           
"This draft added a number of provisions based on vocal opposition to specific projects that have been proposed. Many of those folks are here tonight. I certainly respect that process," Walters said. "But if we start sticking things into Green Code designed to torpedo specific projects, we are doing things today that will hurt us tomorrow."

Affordable housing attracted a crowd on the City Hall steps before the council hearing. PUSH Buffalo Board Chair Maxine Murphy said rent increases are forcing people out of their homes.

"People have been pushed out of their houses because of the rent," Murphy said. "I met a family who was living on Lafayette and their rent went up to over $1000 and so her and her two children were forced out, because of the giant increase."

Alethea Davis said the code should encourage very specific development in the Fruit Belt to meet the needs in what she says is a food desert.

"When we do all of the planning and especially in the urban neighborhoods, perhaps we can have at least two really good grocery stores so we can have healthy food for our children and dry cleaners and laundromats for those who don't have washers and driers at home, plain and simple," Davis suggested.

Fruit Belt residents say longtime renters are being pushed out by higher rents and new people are coming in, gentrifying the neighborhood.

India Walton said the Fruit Belt should not be gentrified.
 

Credit WBFO's Mike Desmond

"What we're saying is that the people who have lived in the Fruit Belt should be able to stay there. We're not opposed to people moving into the Fruit Belt. What we're opposed to is people being priced out of their own neighborhood," Walton said. "And it's so easy for people to say things like, 'Well, if you don't like it or you can't afford it, you should just move.' But we live in communities. We're a family in the Fruit Belt. So it's like telling me to move away from my Mom, you know, my support and things like that. So it's a little bit more complicated than it seems."

Larry Brooks voiced his opinion about development on the Outer Harbor. He said it would be folly to develop the land.

"New residential development will require new infrastructure and the construction of that would cost all ratepayers, not just the people who live there," Brooks said. "While north of the Buffalo River we have underutilized infrastructure that once served twice the population it serves today. Add new ratepayers there and we reduce the cost for all ratepayers."

Brooks says the city has much less parkland than many other cities and just turning the Outer Harbor into a park would improve the city's green image.