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Buffalo Green Code: Mayor Brown announces zoning code overhaul

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.”


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.


“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.”


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.”


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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  • grad94

    ok, that’s one thing for the brown administration plus column. now, about that big minus column…

  • buffloonitick

    will the podium be redesigned to LEED standards?…

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    This is HUGE for the City and a very progressive move by the Brown administration. I’m really surprised that there is not more discussion on this. Any hopes or concerns out there about the potential code or the planning process that will be used to create it?

  • grad94

    yeah, you’re right. i expected a real debate.
    personally, i want to know if off-street parking minimums can be done away with in a revised code. off-street parking minimums have consigned plenty of otherwise sound urban buildings to the landfill.

  • Peter

    The Buffalo Green Code is a great move and one that can be a fine example for other cities of a similar size as Buffalo. Larger metropolises like New York City have made major headway in bicycle paths etc, and even recent neighborhoods built for the Olympics (in Vancouver, for example) have been on the forefront of green technologies… but it is all of the U.S. cities of the scale of Buffalo that can really make the difference in educating the country on sustainability. Well done.

  • BuffaloNiagaraPlanner

    I agree. Have you ever seen a full strip plaza parking lot? On the busiest day of the year, a strip plaza parking lot never seems more than half full. The off-street parking minimums are ridiculous. Here’s an actual WNY example – 1 parking space for every 200 sq. ft. of gross floor area, which means that a typical 200,000 sq. ft. Wal-Mart Supercenter would need 1,000 parking spaces. What’s worse is that parking requirements seldom have any internal greenspace requirements (i.e. planter beds separating parking aisles, landscape buffers along the right-of-way, etc.), which obviously results in huge swathes of impervious surface and contributes significantly to the heat island effect. I’d like to see minimum parking requirements cut by at least 50%. I would also like to see internal greenspace requirements with an emphasis on use of large caliper trees. I would like to see a code that promotes parking to the rear of large scale commercial structures and use of more traditional setbacks to create a more typical street wall.

  • greenArcht

    Thanks for including the link to the Buffalo Smart Code website, which was developed by Chuck Banas for the AIA Buffalo-Western New York Urban Design Committee. A lot of work was done to promote a new smart code for Buffalo by Chuck and other members of the committee, yet it wasn’t acknowledged in the news reports on the Mayor’s announcement. Brendan Mehaffey was also on the committee – he and the planning staff deserve credit for getting this on the radar at City Hall.

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