For years, the Buffalo News editorial staff (as with its reporters) has blindly touted Mayor Byron Brown’s proposed Green Code as Buffalo’s salvation. Now that the City’s legislators, the nine-member Common Council, are ready to approve Buffalo’s new zoning and development ordinance, Western New York’s largest daily newspaper is all upset. An opinion piece published on September 19, 2016 – under the heading, “Smart growth needed” – expresses disappointment that “overly restrictive zoning regulations stand in the way of growth the city needs.” The source of the Buffalo News frustration? A decision to restrict the height of new buildings on Elmwood Avenue to three stories. Developers – such as Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. and Chason Affinity – are whining, and the Buffalo News is more than willing to lobby on their behalf. Let me give you three reasons why the opinion expressed in the editorial is so dumb.
First, although the Buffalo News editorial concedes that the “Elmwood Village already has a certain amount of density,” it insists that, “Residents living in the Elmwood Village should be encouraging density, not discouraging it.” The editorial staff ignores the unassailable fact that the Elmwood Village is already a vital and attractive neighborhood, and that the primary reason for its lure is its livable scale, the balance between historic residential structures and small-scale businesses.
Second, the Dec. 19th opinion piece speaks the truth when it says that the Elmwood Village “has the kind of reputation that struggling neighborhoods envy.” It is also true that many of Buffalo’s neighborhoods would benefit from “denser development that will contribute to growth.” But the Elmwood Village is not one of those neighborhoods. The beneficiaries of denser development on Elmwood Avenue would not be current Elmwood Village residents, but, to the contrary, the only constituency that seems to count at the Buffalo News: developers.
Third, the Buffalo News editorial staff acknowledges that a developer who wishes to construct a building taller than three stories will have the right, under State law and the Green Code, to seek a “variance” from the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals and attempt to prove that the benefits of the proposed project outweigh the detrimental impacts. But they’re upset that such developers “will have to spend more time and money and undergo public scrutiny.” Imagine that, a developer who insists that its project is a benefit to a neighborhood will have to prove that fact in a public forum. Like it or not, Ciminelli, Chason Affinity, and the Buffalo News, such an approach not only sounds like democracy to me, it is also the only way to protect and preserve a community with the historic character and uniqueness of the Elmwood Village.
The State’s Historic Preservation Office has submitted a letter – also dated December 19, 2016 – to the City of Buffalo explaining the detrimental impacts one of the controversial proposals – Chason Affinity’s plans to demolish a dozen structures and build an utterly inappropriate 5-story, 166,000-square-foot monstrosity at the southeast corner of Elmwood and Forest avenues – would have on the Elmwood Village’s historic fabric. I strongly urge Buffalonians and our elected officials to read it: shpo-12-19-2016-letter.
With All Due Respect,