When Parking Takes Over: A Repost

This is a repost of a story I published on BRO last June. I am posting it again because I think it is important to remind people what is at stake in the parking war that has been ravaging Buffalo for 60 years.  It is important because the Elmwood Village Association is sponsoring a public preview of the City of Buffalo’s Green Code this Saturday at the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, corner of Lafayette and Elmwood and the parking everywhere crowd will be at this meeting.  They will be there loud and proud with their demands for easy and ample parking within steps of any destination.  Currently the City’s code is designed with minimum off-street parking requirements for new construction and renovations. These minimum parking requirements basically make it illegal to replicate the dense walkable and highly popular Elmwood Village.  The current code is designed to turn the city into a sprawl-scape.  

The Green Code is being designed to eliminate the legislation of sprawl development and  to make dense walkable neighborhoods like Elmwood Village and Allentown legal to build once again.  This story shows exactly what minimum parking requirements are designed to do. This sprawl scape is not what people come to the Elmwood Village for.  It is not what makes the City’s most popular neighborhood so desirable. Go to this Green Code meeting and make sure that public officials know in no uncertain terms that you want Buffalo to be for people and not cars.  Make sure they know that you want a dense walkable city without vast areas of valuable urban land dedicated to dead gray parking lots.

I did a short “Favorite Buildings” story on this building at the south east corner of Lexington and Ashland in the Elmwood Village.  Here is some of what I wrote then:

As
wonderful as this building is, it is likely that it could not be built
today. What is certain is that people would complain that it was too
big, that it would increase traffic, that it would not “blend in” with
the surrounding wood frame houses, or that the commercial storefronts
were in conflict with the residential streets (among other arguments).
We have heard all these complaints with the unveiling of the recent
Elmwood hotel proposal. These types of arguments are often based on
emotional self interest with little in the form of objective analysis.
Our cities were originally built with a jumble of uses, building types,
and people in close proximity. 

This
diversity is what we cherish in our cities and yet today our urge is to
separate and sterilize. We think that we don’t want messiness and
inconvenience of any type. What we end up with is blandness. We lose the
very quality that we think we are saving. Let us hope that we don’t
sterilize ourselves out of the opportunity for new and contemporary
buildings which may contribute to our city streets in the way that this
one does.
This is a beautiful building that
people would fight to save if it was threatened with demolition.  It is
filled with wonderful stores and restaurants that the neighborhood
loves. The building’s numerous residents add to the economic and social
vitality of the neighborhood and the building is a physically beautiful
presence on the corner. It is a cherished building in the neighborhood
and a great example of why people are attracted to the Elmwood Village.
 Unfortunately if a similar building was proposed to be built today in a
similar location people would come out of the woodwork to oppose it.
 They would do so based on irrational fears and misinformation about
lack of parking, traffic congestion, the large size of the building, the
density of construction, and lack of open space.  They would also be
afraid of the mix of uses which we have been brainwashed into believing
is bad.   
Of course this building is a perfect
example of why all these fears ARE irrational.  The building does not
cause traffic congestion.  It is on a quiet and very pleasant corner
with little traffic because so many people walk who frequent its
businesses and live in its apartments. If anything causes traffic to
increase in the area it is the parking lot for the restaurant across the
street.  Parking is tight in the area (but not impossible to find) but
that has more to do with the alternate side parking regulations than
anything else. The density of residential units feeds local business and
adds vitality and the building is in no way oppressive in its size.
 Its bright open storefronts are a delight to walk by and they add
interest and a sense of safety to the street.  But even though people
love this building, and see that this form of building works
wonderfully, they would oppose it if it was proposed today. Not only
that, so would the law.  This beautiful treasure of a building does not
meet the city zoning code (see part 1).

Steel-Building-chairs-Buffalo-NY.jpgThe
building sits on an 11,144 sq. ft. lot with 21 apartment units and
4,555 sq. ft. of retail about 1/4 of which is restaurant space. The code
requires 1,250 sq. ft. of lot area per residential unit in C1 zone,
resulting in a required lot area of 26,250 sq. ft., meaning the lot size
for the same size building would have to be increased by 136%. You will
also have to provide parking for at least 44 cars, or 7,040 sq. ft., or
63% of the lot area.  The bay windows will have to go too since they
hang over the Right of Way. (The building might be too tall as well. I
could not confirm that.)  To build anything like this building today and
meet code you will essentially need to tear down 6 to 7 adjoining
buildings. This open space and a giant parking lot would pretty much
ruin the quality of the building and neighborhood that people like.
Notice that this block has 2 other large buildings on it in addition to
several houses.  In order to accommodate those buildings all of the
houses would have to be removed according to code. 

As
I noted the Elmwood Village and all its dense urban charms are not
allowed without special permission.  That means that an enlightened
developer who wanted to build in a way that followed the set patterns of
density and mix of uses that make Elmwood so attractive would need
special permission.  He or she would need to ask for special permission
to build in a way which emulates the things people like about Elmwood -
the things that make it one of the most popular places to live. 
Asking
special permission from the City Council means staging public meetings
at which a small number of well meaning people and others with special
interest will trot out the NIMBY commandments – Thou shalt not build
taller than what I think is good,  thou shalt not mix uses, thou shalt
not build more residential units than I think is appropriate, thou shall
provide lots and lots of parking.  I am all for public involvement.
Lord knows Buffalo is prone to massive blunders without it.  But the
public must become better informed and they must not be steered in the
wrong direction by an antiquated zoning code.  Make sure you make it to
every Green Code meeting you can and express yourself loudly and firmly
in favor of a new code that is not watered down by irrational
carmegeddon fears.

lexington-buff-grid-thumb-660x421-31054.jpg

About the author  ⁄ david steele

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