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Mike Kimelberg Named Buffalo City Planner

Born in Buffalo
and raised in Albany, Michael Kimelberg is a graduate of SUNY Geneseo and earned a
Master’s in Urban Planning from the University of Washington.  His career in Seattle has spanned the
private sector, as a consulting urban designer and planner to businesses,
and public sector, as a planner for the City of Seattle. He has helped
businesses from both sides of that spectrum and worked extensively with
neighborhoods and communities to ensure new development met residents’ needs
and desires.  

Kimelberg’s appointment comes as the result of a collaborative
search and review effort involving City of Buffalo agencies along with input
from Robert Shibley, founder of the University at Buffalo’s Urban Design
Project and lead consultant on the City of Buffalo’s award-winning Queen City
Hub master plan and representatives of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the
region’s leading business advocacy organization.

He is a LEED Accredited Professional, having worked
on several green projects in the Pacific Northwest and has
incorporated smart growth principles and sustainable building and planning
practices in ways that both create a sense of place and make communities
greener. 

Kimlberg
said, “The bulk of my career to date has been working in planning
initiatives and design standards and guidelines.” He believes he has
something to offer developers in “rewriting zoning codes, the development
and review process, looking at things that have been in place for as long as 50
or 60 years.”

Still,
Kimelberg says rezoning is a big project to start on.  “I’ll start with the small incremental things first, on
a site-by site basis, keeping in mind the long term [impact] to the urban
fabric of the area,” he said.

According
to Mayor Byron Brown, “Up until now, conflicting city plans and regulations
have left both businesses and the community unsure of the development process
and its outcomes.  What you can
expect with the appointment of Mike Kimelberg is more clarity, transparency and
predictability in the city’s planning process.”

Kimelberg
explained, “We do have a comprehensive plan for growth, and we should
provide enough direction in the short term toward that end.  The skill I’ll bring is my ability to
sit down with developers and designers and explore the things not looked at
because of codes.  I always ask,
‘Are you looking at the spirit of the project?’  A lot of communities have imperfect regulations, forcing the
developer to come in and grapple with zoning code restrictions.”

Kimelberg
expects it will take him a year and a half to two years to get a
state-of-the-art zoning code up to snuff with 21st-century
standards, saying, “There’s a confusing set of standards.  We have to rework proposals for the
intent of the zoning code of a district, but with a solution that reinterprets
the standard.”

Brian Reilly, Commissioner of Economic Development, said, “In
the future, the development community and communities of interest in our
neighborhoods can expect to see our many plans re-tooled to reinforce our
vision for the city, outlined in the Queen City Hub plan. The development
process in Buffalo has long suffered from unclear, fragmented and unpredictable
conditions for development.  Higher quality design will play a
key role in regulatory reform. In his role within the Department of Economic
Development, Mike will drive our regulations toward simplicity, and will
institute a level of design excellence throughout the city.”

Kimelberg will officially begin as city planner on February 27th,
and hopes to be joined soon by his wife and 16-month old daughter. “I’m
not optimistic on the quick sale of our house in Seattle,” Kimelberg said,
and added that he and his wife have been looking to relocate to Buffalo for a
while as a way to be near his relatives and raise their family.

Did he know Reilly referred to him as a “rock star in the
planning world” long before his name and appointment was released to the
public?  “Well, no,”
Kimelberg laughed.  “Do we
have those?”  Were hoping so.

(Pictured above: Brian Reilly, Byron Brown, Mike Kimelberg, Robert Shibley) 

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