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Development First?

Author: Courtney Bajdas

It’s easy to get swept up in the idea that development equals progress. Over the last decade, I have watched Buffalo’s renaissance slowly gather momentum, including the increase in reuse of older buildings and new developments. The one disconcerting trend, however, is the strong bias toward developers at the expense of residents and neighborhoods.

The Zoning Board has gained the reputation of “development first” by granting innumerable variances in spite of a well-thought (and well-funded) Green Code. Now, it seems the Planning Board is joining their ranks.

Recently, at the January 14, 2019 public hearing, the Planning Board reviewed a proposed condominium project in a residential neighborhood. One-hundred-and-twenty residents and property owners within 1/16 of a mile of the site signed a petition saying, “no condo driveway on the side street; move the driveway to the main street.” Guess what they did? Approved the project with the condo driveway on the side street. How can the Planning Board ignore more than 100 concerned citizens

Why not table the project for a few weeks to allow residents to consider proposed compromises? The site isn’t shovel ready and won’t be for months due to environmental testing, asbestos abatement and demolition.

I’m not anti-development. But development must be done thoughtfully and responsibly. The approvals granted now, will have lasting impacts going forward because developers of future projects can point back to them.

The truth is, developers are not going to compromise their profits just to appease residents. Some developers seem to hold an especially effective sway over the Boards and City Hall at large.

Residents rely on mechanisms like the Planning Board and Zoning Board to leverage their concerns. It is these Boards who can push developers to convene with neighbors. It is these Boards who can force developers to make concessions. When this happens, some plans will have to change and the approval process sought again, but a delay of months is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things where enduring impacts to neighborhoods are at stake.

It is exciting to see developers investing in Buffalo, but we cannot forget that people, not buildings, make up the fabric of our community. City Hall needs to stop selling out its residents to wealthy developers. The bottom line is, developers build their projects, then walk away with a profit, but we have to live here!

Courtney Bajdas works and lives in the City of Buffalo, she is also an Elmwood Crossing Project Advisory Committee (PAC) member

Lead image: greyerbaby

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