Developers react to Buffalo’s new Green Code

The Green Code puts good looks and history on par with function

Fredrick Law Olmstead, widely considered one of the great American landscape architects, once described Buffalo, New York, as “the best planned city in America, if not the world.”

Olmstead, who designed Central Park for New York City in 1857, was invited to Buffalo in 1868 to design a park for the city and was immediately taken by the street system, a grid overlaid by a series of radial streets. Olmstead decided to add to this layout by designing a series of parks to be interspersed through Buffalo’s neighborhoods.

Subsequent developments in Buffalo might have Olmstead rolling in his grave.

In the 1950s, the scenic Humboldt Parkway, which linked two of Olmstead’s parks, was destroyed to make room for a sunken highway. In 1960, another highway severed the city, cutting Buffalo off from the Niagara River, one of its many historic waterfronts. In following decades, modern, pragmatic building practices chipped away at the city’s character.

New times, new zones

But perhaps Olmstead would find hope in zoning and building codes meant to return Buffalo to its once charismatic layout and appearance.

Getting final approval from Mayor Byron W. Brown in early 2017, the city’s new Green Code, more formally the Unified Development Ordinance, is the first major overhaul of Buffalo’s zoning laws since 1953.

As opposed to most city zoning that focuses on a building’s use instead of its appearance, Buffalo’s new laws require developers and construction companies to first take into account how a new building, renovation or development fits with its neighborhood.

These so-called form-based codes promote historic preservation and more walkable city neighborhoods by encouraging mixed-use developments and access to alternative forms of transportation, proponents say.

Or, as Buffalo’s Green Code website states, “It sets standards to ensure that adjacent buildings complement rather than conflict with each other.”

Long considered

Buffalo’s Green Code took effect in early February, making Buffalo the third U.S. city, behind Denver and Miami, to have a form-based code on the books. While the local laws don’t impact developments that have already been approved, many developers have already taken steps to comply.

Buffalo City Hall and its surrounding.

“We started hearing developers saying they were designing to the Green Code two years ago,” said Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Planning, during a press conference with local news stations. “They understood that the community had been so involved in the process that they wanted to follow the standards being created because they knew they had a lot of community input.”

That early adaption is evident in Larkinville, a neighborhood just east of Buffalo’s downtown.

Originally known as the Larkin District, the neighborhood was once the site of the Larkin Soap Company, a successful mail-order company that fell to ruin in the 1940s, leaving behind abandoned manufacturing facilities and warehouses.

In 2002, Larkin Development Group (LDG), a Buffalo-based developer, began restoring the historic buildings and converting them into office buildings and mixed-use developments. LDG also began developing Larkin Square, a public park in the center of the neighborhood, that today hosts festivals, food trucks and live music.

“[Larkinville] is so representative of what the city is looking for long term,” says Leslie Zemsky, senior partner for the Larkin Development Group. In October 2015, the city of Buffalo even chose Larkinville as the location from which to announce that the Buffalo Green Code had been submitted to the city council for approval.

Zemsky says the Green Code will ensure that more neighborhoods are revitalized and renovated instead of torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

“More has gone on in Buffalo in the last four or five years than has gone on in Buffalo in the last 30.” – Rocco Termini, president and owner of Signature Development

Rocco Termini, president and owner of Signature Development, a Buffalo-based developer that specializes in historic preservation projects, agrees that there’s never been a better time to be building in the City of Good Neighbors.

“More has gone on in Buffalo in the last four or five years than has gone on in Buffalo in the last 30,” he says. “We have a new inner harbor, a medical campus that is hiring thousands of people and we have historic preservation going on all over the city.”

In 2012, Termini spearheaded the restoration of the Hotel Lafayette, a historic building in Buffalo’s downtown, designed in the French Renaissance style. The hotel had been vacant for almost 30 years and was facing demolition.

Termini is looking forward to the Green Code bringing consistency to builders in Buffalo.

“Every time a developer goes into a neighborhood and wants to build [they often hear], ‘No, it’s too big, it’s too much, it’s too everything.’ The Green Code sets standards so that the neighborhood knows ahead of time what the conditions are and what we can build.”

Residents worry

Life-long Buffalonian Tony Maggiotto isn’t surprised by the new interest in Buffalo.

“People are recognizing the great bones that Buffalo has, which are the buildings, the infrastructure and the places where community was originally defined in your pocket neighborhoods,” he says. “And I think everybody recognizes the authenticity so they want to be close to it.”

As the executive director of the Elmwood Village Association, an advocacy group that seeks to preserve and protect the historic nature of the Elmwood Village, one of Buffalo’s most iconic neighborhoods, Maggiotto places high importance on this renewed investment in the past.

Elmwood Village was even named one of the Great Places in America by the American Planning Association, a non-profit representing urban planning professionals.

But while Maggiotto sees the benefits of more transparent zoning laws, he and many other residents of Elmwood Village are skeptical of how it will pan out, especially when developers start asking for variances.

The spirit of the Green Code is for the city to review each development on a case-by-case basis, he says. “But the concern for residents is once you get one variance in everybody gets to break that rule as well, and since the document is brand new [we’re wondering] what is going to be the first scuff.”

Only time will tell. But for better or for worse, the city of Buffalo is about to face major developments.

“The whole city psyche has changed, and everyone wants to be a part of the new Buffalo,” says Zemsky.


On behalf of Alfred Sanzari Enterprises, I would like to thank you for showcasing our company as a cover story in US Builders Review, and express our gratitude for a job well done in putting together an impressive editorial product. We already have received a great deal of positive feedback on the article and are confident it will be a very effective tool for sharing Alfred Sanzari Enterprises’ story, and our new hotel project, with a national audience of industry professionals. Please also extend our thanks to everyone on your team that helped in any way to produce this article. This was truly a collaborative effort.  Your staff listened to our feedback and was incredibly professional and accommodating to our requests throughout the entire process. We welcome the opportunity to collaborate with US Builders Review on future projects.
— Ryan Sanzari, Director of Operations, Alfred Sanzari Enterprises
The process was simple: we were provided questions that the writers wanted to discuss, we were interviewed, and then we got to see a few drafts before the final version went to print. Given the quality of this publication, on behalf of Giroux, I can assure everyone that all of my partners would be happy to participate in similar articles in the future.
— Barbara Kotsos, Director of Marketing & PR, Giroux Glass
Kyle and his team were very professional and patient in explaining their program to us. Their communications were clear and concise and did a great job of guiding us through the process of getting published in their magazine.
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I was contacted as a nominee for the Greenbuild Editor’s Choice 2016 recognition and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Working with US Builders Review has been a blessing for my company. Erica Berry took an awesome interview in the initial call as she gathered data for the article. She was concerned about how we became us, and she made me feel important by listening and taking notes. Then there is Ian Nichols who made me feel so comfortable in sharing my story, and Molly Shaw who interviewed me as well, as she was getting ready to create an awesome article about my company -- and I must say she nailed it on the first run! What a pleasure it has been to work with everyone. This feature on Container Homes USA will help me push the company into the forefront at the Greenbuild Expo 2016.
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Working with Kyle at TrueLine Publishing was a great experience. We are quite pleased with how the article about Souder Brothers turned out. The magazine article and photo spread is going to be a very effective tool to use in our marketing. If you have the opportunity to be featured in a project like this, I would recommend doing it. Kyle and his team made the whole process very smooth and we are happy to have been a part of the latest edition of US Builders Review.
— Corinne Schaffer, Project Manager, Souder Brothers Construction
It was an absolute pleasure to work with the writers and editorial team at TrueLine Publishing for our recent article in US Builders Review. From the start of the project, it was apparent that everyone involved was very concerned with accuracy and getting the facts right. They were also very conscientious about soliciting our feedback and ensuring that we were happy with the content and with the manner in which Giroux Glass was described in the finalized piece.
— Barbara Kotsos, Director of Marketing & PR, Giroux Glass
Kyle Gahm was instrumental in coordinating this project from beginning to end. He was always available and a pleasure to work with. It would be a pleasure to work with Kyle down the road. Bill Keaton was very impressive in raising money from advertising which resulted in ASE getting the cover story, so thank you Bill. Lia Prysunka and Jeanee Dudley are both very impressive individuals who deserve a lot of credit for this featured piece. They were both very patient and accepting of any changes we suggested. The format, quality, and resolution was awesome. To sum it all up: Our upper management, who never have been high on PR and things of this nature said that it was "absolutely fantastic" and were blown away. They now are requesting multiple copies of the full magazine and are very proud of the work you all put in. Thanks again.
— Ryan Sanzari, Director of Operations, Alfred Sanzari Enterprises


Spring 2018



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