New York State Senator Sean Ryan joined Buffalo Common Councilmembers David Rivera and Mitch Nowakowski, Jessie Fisher of Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN), and other community stakeholders to announce recommendations to prevent demolitions in the City of Buffalo as part of a larger endeavor to help identify, protect, and restore Buffalo’s historic architecture. The recommendations come from a report (PBN: Framework for Protecting Historic Buffalo) produced by a panel that was formed last year to outline a path toward creating a community preservation plan for the City of Buffalo.
Following several major losses of fabric, State Senator Sean Ryan and City Council Members David Rivera and Mitch Nowakowski decided that it was important to convene a panel who could not simply point out where public policies were failing to protect Buffalo’s historic fabric, but were able to create an actionable plan to move forward.
To this end, they requested Preservation Buffalo Niagara to put together a group of community-based experts and guide a process for coming up with recommendations. That committee was first convened in October 2020, had five formal meetings, and studied potential solutions. In addition to the legislators and PBN, the panel comprises an array of community stakeholders with expertise in neighborhood leadership, real estate development, and the law, including Catherine Faust, Gretchen Cercone, Jason Yots, Rocco Termini, Terry Alford, Gail Wells, and Stephanie “Cole” Adams.
The panel’s primary recommendation is to immediately implement a city-wide moratorium on unnecessary demolitions until a formal preservation plan is adopted. Such a moratorium was initially recommended by the City of Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Planning as part of its most recent Comprehensive Plan in 2006. The suggested moratorium would ensure that all demolitions except those necessary for public safety are avoided while a preservation plan is created.
The report makes a host of recommendations that would apply to existing local landmarks and historic districts. This includes several suggestions regarding the City of Buffalo’s preservation ordinance, which currently covers about four percent of Buffalo’s buildings. Included in the panel’s recommendations are a call to update the ordinance to bring it in line with state guidelines and several suggestions to improve the process by which buildings are protected by it.
Senator Sean Ryan said, “The City of Buffalo has faced a demolition crisis for far too long. Our community does not have a plan to address the problem, and put safeguards in place to ensure historic preservation of our neighborhoods. With every structure that is demolished or crumbles to the ground, we lose an important part of our history, and the character of our community is forever altered.”
The panel’s recommendations also include suggestions for protecting the 95 percent of properties in Buffalo that are not located within historic districts. The report asserts that redevelopment of these properties often results in changes to the character of the neighborhoods in which they reside. With that fact in mind, the report includes recommendations to update other codes and policies that impact existing and future land use and development to ensure they’re meeting the Comprehensive Plan’s stated goals of maintaining a strong “web of urbanism” that protects and builds upon existing community character.
“For years, we’ve watched the current demolition-first policy result in the loss of thousands of Buffalo’s historic structures, while yielding few long-term economic, social, or environmental benefits to its citizens,” said Jason Yots, Founder of Common Bond Real Estate. “There is another way: First, let’s stop demolishing Buffalo’s buildings until we can catalogue what is left. Second, let’s create public policies and programs that encourage and enable the reuse of Buffalo’s valuable built environment by all of its citizens, not just those of us who work in the development community.”