2.6 Framework for Revision of the City's Zoning Ordinance

To support the implementation of the Buffalo Comprehensive plan and the smart growth principles on which it is based, the City’s zoning ordinance needs to be revised and updated. The structure of zoning should be reorganized to fit the Comprehensive Plan. Little change is required for Residential Zoning Districts, but changes will be required for Commercial and Industrial Zoning, and the addition of some new zones is also needed.

A framework for the revised zoning ordinance is recommended along the following lines:

Figure 59 The investment corridors

Figure 59 The investment corridors (Popup full image) 


The current Residential Zoning Districts (R1-R5) range from “R1 One Family,” the most restrictive district and least dense, to “R5 Apartment Hotel,” the least restrictive and the most dense. We do not anticipate major changes within these districts other than amplifying design guidelines.

New home construction design should incorporate ten design features: 

  1. Urban density (thirty foot minimum frontage and a ten-foot set back; 

  2. Area improvements must mix a combination of Rehabilitation and New Construction;

  3. Continuous sidewalk / streetscape amenities;

  4. Usable front porches;

  5. Garages with a thirty-foot (30') minimum setback from the sidewalk;

  6. Wood and/or brick construction;

  7. Vertical windows;

  8. Landscaped frontages;

  9. Consistent roof pitch and elevation locations; and 

  10. Attention to details. 

An additional layer of regulation should be provided in Preservation Districts to guide restoration and protection of the architectural quality and character of individual buildings and groups (blocks or precincts) of buildings. 


The current Commercial Zoning (C1-CM) including downtown zoning (DO & RR) should emphasize mixed-use development, built to the front lot line, multiple stories, surface parking restricted to side and rear yards, with specific Floor Area Ratios to Lot Area that allow structured parking to contribute to FAR. Mixed-Use Commercial Districts will prohibit single-family detached housing in favor of residential upper stories above retail/commercial uses and row house type configurations. District definitions will specify residential unit range and non-residential development square area requirements.

Typical district types might breakout as follows: 

  • Mixed-Use Neighborhood Commercial – Lower to Moderate Density: Minimum FAR 0.75 to 1, in not less than two stories; allow mixed residential use 8-16 units per acre with accessory ground floor nonresidential development permitted up to 10,000 square feet per acre.

  • Mixed Use Transit Station Area (Outside of CBD) – Moderate Density: Minimum FAR 1 to 1, in not less than two stories; allow mixed residential use 8-16 units per acre with non-residential development permitted up to 20,000 square feet per acre. 

  • Mixed Use Downtown (Outside of CBD) – Moderate to Higher Density: Minimum FAR 2 to 1, in not less than two stories; allow mixed residential use 16-24 units per acre with non-residential development permitted up to 40,000 square feet per acre. 

  • Mixed Use Medical - Moderate to High Density: Minimum FAR 2 to 1, in not less than two stories; allow mixed residential use 8-20 units with non-residential medical related uses and accessory ground floor retail use up to 80,000 square feet per acre. Hospitals are permitted up to 176,000 square feet per acre. 

  • Mixed Use Downtown CBD-Higher Density: Minimum FAR 4 to 1, in not less than four stories; allow residential use 24 units and up per acre, non-residential development 80,000 square feet and up per acre with 50 percent of the parking in a structure.

Open Space/Conservation

Open Space/Conservation is a new classification for public/ private open space and natural areas. This zoning would apply to large tracts of public and private open space. This is designated space for resource protection and conservation; this may apply to land assembly areas designated for future redevelopment. It applies to wetland, riparian, floodplain, and brownfield passive conservation areas. In exchange for developing in specified areas developers may contribute to the management of these areas (e.g., the Wetlands Mitigation Program). 

Recreation/Public Facilities 

Recreation/Public Facilities District is a new district intended to provide a special zoning classification for passive and active recreational facilities (including both public and private properties) to ensure the proper location and protection of recreational resources. It is also for public and semipublic uses, including governmental, educational and other civic uses, to ensure the proper location of such uses in relation to transportation facilities, the compatibility of such uses with adjacent development, and proper site design and land development.

This zoning would also protect uses that should always remain as recreational or public uses and should not be zoned for residential use or anything other than what they are, e.g., Olmsted parks, schools, community buildings, museums, etc. 

Marine Commercial

Marine Commercial: The intent of this new district is to permit and encourage a range of water-dependent and water-enhanced uses in order to make the best use of certain lands along the City's valuable waterfront, to provide for a mix of water-oriented commercial uses, to ensure an attractive setting for a variety of appropriate maritime uses, to promote balanced and beneficial use of coastal lands without diminishing public access, to strengthen the City's economic base by encouraging traditional water-related uses and promote water-related recreational industry.

This zoning strengthens the marine character of the waterfront, and provides for and promotes marinas and other water-related uses that need to be on the water (i.e. water-dependent and water-enhanced). 


The current Industrial Zoning Districts (M1-M3) range from “M1 Light Industrial District,” being the most restrictive industrial district, to “M3 Heavy Industrial District” as the least restrictive. We do not anticipate major changes within these districts other than reducing the total area zoned for heavy industrial use.

Special Zoning

Special Zoning Districts (principally neighborhood commercial strips) and Urban Renewal Districts will be reduced in number in favor of new zoning and site plan design controls as previously described in the Commercial Zoning section.