Buffalo’s “Green Code” would deprive 144,000+ renters of a mailed notice of a zoning-related public hearing.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, fifty-five percent of Buffalonians rent – rather than own – their residences. That means that more than 144,000 of the 261,310 people living in Western New York’s largest city are not living in owner-occupied housing units.
What’s significant about that fact? As currently written, Buffalo’s new zoning law, the “Green Code,” proposes to mail to property owners only a notice of a public hearing – before the Common Council, Zoning Board of Appeals, or City Planning Board – regarding a zoning application impacting their neighborhood. If not changed, the Green Code’s notice policy would exclude a majority of city residents from the most reliable and effective type of public notification – receipt in the mail of a written notice.
The Green Code’s approach to zoning notices is a step backwards from the notice requirements in Buffalo’s current zoning ordinance. The existing law calls for service of a notice “upon all owners and occupants” within a specified distance from a property seeking a zoning map change. Mayor Byron Brown’s administration – while claiming to seek input from all city stakeholders – has not explained its proposed weakening of the notice requirements by the exclusion of renters.
Unfortunately, the Green Code is not alone in promoting a policy adversely impacting tenants. Other upstate cities – including Niagara Falls, Rochester, and Syracuse – also mail notices only to nearby property owners. But Buffalo’s Common Council now has a perfect opportunity to correct an unfair and unjustifiable notice process as it reviews the proposed Green Code.
The potential harm to a resident’s quality of life or a neighborhood’s character is just as substantial whether you own or rent your castle. As our state’s highest court asserted nearly 30 years ago: “A change in contiguous or closely proximate property obviously can as readily affect the value and enjoyment of a leasehold as the underlying ownership interest.” Despite this self-evident statement, the Green Code would perpetuate a system where absentee landlords are given greater protection than individuals and families who – through choice or circumstances – rent their residences.
Other forms of public notice are not as effective as a written notice in your mailbox – whether the card or letter is addressed to a specific resident or “current occupant.” A sign posted in front of a subject parcel is much less likely to catch the attention of a busy, elderly, or infirm resident than a post card in the mail. And it would be foolish to pretend that legal notices published in the Buffalo News classifieds are read by more than a tiny percentage of Buffalonians.
I urge Buffalo renters and their advocates to contact their Council Members, and the Green Code authors at the City’s Office of Strategic Planning, and demand a zoning process that treats tenants with at least as much respect as absentee landlords.
With all due respect,