Zoning - Salvation Army and DT

Posted by MJ

Last Monday's planing board meeting (12-5-11) agenda included the expansion of the Salvation Army at 50 Cottage St. It is a prime example of what I've learned on the planning board. The rules we have set up (60 years ago?) do more to hamper the reemergence of a sense of place in and around DT Lockport that anything else. It can be a depressing experience when new buildings are constructed to see another opportunity lost. Regarding the Salvation Army, while it is not a commercial store etc that most people will be interacting directly with, it is still a structure that we will interact with as we drive or walk by. This does not count what uses the building may see in the future.

As the site currently stands the building is built up to the city right of way along Cottage and Genessee streets. It does a great job of mimicking the placement of the houses on Genessee to the west and the Verizon building across cottage to the east.

The unimproved lot at the corner of Walnut and Cottage is just begging for a structure built up the corner to compliment the buildings at the other 3 corners. As is common, zoning is there to make sure it doesn't....

 Here is proposed site plan (click on for larger):
The zoning of B-5 requires a front yard (setback) of 30 ft (Cottage) and a side yard (setback) of 15 ft (Walnut and Genessee). Maybe it's my eyes but every structure on that block and at adjacent corners already has zero setback. So why the zoning designation requiring something totally out of place? Why 30 ft setbacks one block from Main st on a secondary commercial street? The zoning board was wise to grant a variance so that the Cottage St facade could at least match the position of the existing one. This does nothing to help out the placement along Walnut.

Another side effect of these "setbacks" is that instead of resulting in a nice "yard" etc they result in asphalt parking since there is now no where else to put the parking on the site since the structure is forced toward the back. As seen above all of Walnut is now parking spaces up to the intersection instead a structure complimenting the ones located on the other three corners. Here's a small post on the importance of corners. Our zoning should be requiring buildings to hug the corners in DT if we want to see any signs of life in it as opposed to making them illegal.

The community center designation would require 79 parking spots (1 per 200 sq ft). Fortunately the zoning board has granted a variance for 20 spots considering the users of the facility and that there is a city lot on the other side of the Verizon building along with street parking. But as noted above, they are along Walnut instead of at the rear of the building. Nothing could be finer than walking along stunted 2' boxwoods and a parking lot.

A another zoning requirement is  5% parking area landscaping. The importance of 2' tall boxwoods  amongst 20x more asphalt is lost upon me. In the spirit of the 5% law, replanting decent street trees would probably be a much better means to the end. One could require to re-tree in any open plant-able street side plot and plant in one nearby for every plot already containing a tree.

Maybe someday we'll get a legislated master plan and complimentary zoning code instead of our current (forgotten?) non-legislated master plan (circa 1998) with a an outdated conflicting 60 year old zoning code that most likely was copied from somewhere else "just because".

Update 12-12-11
Article from Buffalo News.


Anonymous said...

You know I disagree with you normally on this, that I think our setback and parking zoning laws are there for a good purpose, but common sense is needed. In this case it's ridiculous why they couldn't continue the current buildings design.
Couldn't the zoning board have allowed that or didn't they (other than you) want to allow it?

MJ said...

If you read into the history of zoning laws, and more specifically the numbers they chose, there really wasn't a "good reason". Most laws were just taken from other municipalities with no studies etc into what made sense. This block is a great example. Also, once the negative side effects started to appear nothing was done to tweak or correct them. Perhaps a future post sometime down the road as I'd have to reread a couple section of some books.

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