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Zoning Makes City’s Most Popular Neighborhood Illegal

The image here shows essentially what the Buffalo zoning code thinks of the Elmwood Village – Buffalo’s most popular neighborhood – the one with the fastest growing real estate costs in the city (perhaps in all of WNY).  According to the city’s stone age zoning code the current high density construction is an abomination from which we need to be protected. To make the neighborhood conform to this ridiculous code you would basically need to tear down every other house. Many of the remaining houses would still be too large for the doubled up lots and would need to be made smaller. Of course doing so would eliminate most of the character and charm that comes from that high density and the elegant houses that make it up.
The code basically mandates sprawl style low density development based on some irrational mid-century fear of density and/or a misguided attempt to remake Buffalo into a mythical bucolic suburb.  While the code does not mandate that existing houses be torn down to comply, it would force anyone wishing to build new on any of the few open lots to either not build anything or buy its neighbor and tear it down to obtain the legal sized lot and set-backs.  There is one other option.  You can go to City Hall and beg for a variance which is what virtually every Elmwood village new build project ends up doing.  Then your neighbors and every NIMBY in WNY gets to come out and complain about everything from the color of the shingles to the shrubs you choose.  The effect of the code is to force people to ask for special city permission to build the way Elmwood Village already is – the way people love it – the way that has made it such a special and attractive place.  Special permission to build the way Elmwood already is asinine.  Mandating sprawl is asinine.
This existing crappy 1950s code can’t be gotten rid of fast enough.  I hope people will step forward and express, with forcefulness and urgency the importance of passing the new code in a form that is not watered down with carmaggedon stupidity and irrational density fear mongering.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by David Steele
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