Buffalo Takes Historic Step with Passage of Green Code

Jan 17, 2017

Energy; Clean Energy; Environmental

On December 27, 2016, the Common Council of the City of Buffalo New York unanimously approved the passage of the “Green Code,” a comprehensive zoning plan that incorporates a Land Use Plan, Unified Development Ordinance, Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Brownfield Opportunity Area Plan, and Urban Renewal Plans.  The Green Code represents a shift in Buffalo from a suburban development model to a sustainable urban development model.  The passage of the Green Code is also a historic occurrence because Buffalo has not passed such major comprehensive zoning legislation in 63 years and Buffalo joins only two other cities - Miami, Florida and Denver, Colorado – in passing such a zoning plan.

Mayor Byron Brown will sign the Green Code into law on January 3, 2017 and although the Green Code does not officially take effect in neighborhood commercial corridor zones until 45 days after its passage and 90 days for all other zones, developers who have pending or proposed projects are already taking the provisions of the Green Code into account.  Attempting to comply with Green Code prior to its official effective date is a wise decision since the final version of the Green Code as passed removed certain grandfather clause language that was present in earlier versions.  Proponents for the removal of the language argue it prevents developers from quickly proposing projects to gain any advantages they may have had under the old zoning code.

Some of the major zoning changes in the Green Code include removing many old and irrelevant zoning code provisions; the elimination of minimum parking requirements throughout the City; incorporation of provisions that apply to solar panels, urban agriculture, and wind power; and an overall focus on making the City more walkable, including a focus on alternative forms of transportation rather than automobiles as the only means to navigate the City.

Over 230 public meetings were held before the passage of the Green Code, and it was revised several times over the course of six years based on public comment.  Tables and graphics are depicted throughout the Unified Development Ordinance and flow charts show the step-by-step approval process for each particular permit.  These types of illustrations are present throughout the Green Code and are part of the code’s focus on usability and accessibility for all.

One criticism of the Green Code that arose through the public comment process was the failure to include the concept of inclusionary zoning in the text of the Green Code.  According to proponents, inclusionary zoning would ensure that development is not constructed at the expense of low income residents and would mandate the incorporation of affordable units for low to moderate income residents in new developments.  Council members indicated that they plan to pass an ordinance in 2017 to address concerns regarding inclusionary zoning raised during the public comment period for the Green Code.

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