ReZone Syracuse: what you need to know as the project resumes

ReZone Syracuse: what you need to know as the project resumes

The ordinance is now in its final adoption phase and the specifics of the project will be released later this month.
Published: April 9, 2021
Syracuse City Hall
Syracuse City Hall

Resuming its work from the one-year pause caused by the pandemic, the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency is now working with the city’s Common Council on the final phases of a new zoning ordinance. The agency will share more information about the ReZone Syracuse project to the public starting in April.

Over the past five years, both the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County, have been in the process of designing and building up a better city planning and development plan through rezoning. Because it is such a long-term project, the agency hopes to inform the public what it has been working on over the past years.

“(ReZone Syracuse) is a comprehensive update to the city’s zoning ordinance and zoning map,” said Owen Kerney, assistant director for the City Planning Commission. “Zoning is basically the city’s land use regulations, and it controls the use, intensity and, in some cases, the design of the private property.”

With no update over the past 50 years, the current zoning code system is “old and outdated,” and the agency is aiming to keep zoning consistent with the city’s vision for growth and development so that it improves the health of the community, Kerney said.

The idea of rezoning Syracuse was born after the implementation of the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan that was adopted in January 2013, said Dan Kwasnowski, director of the planning agency. The main goal back then was to create or replicate the places people want to see more of that already exist in the city.

The project started in 2016 after the city received the funding grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in 2015. It did a considerable amount of work essentially from 2016 to 2019, varying from field research to public meetings.

Based on their background research and analysis on city planning, the agency produced an assessment report in April 2016, which outlined “what is going to change, what is working well and what is not working well,” Kerney said. Then starting late in 2016, they began developing three different modules — including zoning districts and using regulations, development standards, and administration and procedures — for the new ordinance as a consolidated draft.

The new ordinance, according to the assessment report, has five main goals: to create a user-friendly ordinance; update the zoning districts to implement the Land Use and Development Plan; modernize the land uses; streamline the development review procedures; and introduce uniform standards to improve the quality of development.

“We held approximately 100 public meetings throughout 2018 and in 2019 and released a final adoption draft of the ordinance and the map at the end of 2019,” Kerney said. In December 2019, the agency forwarded the final draft to the Common Council for adoption consideration, as well as engaging in the New York’s State Environmental Quality Review.

Although the COVID-19 outbreak unexpectedly paused the process for almost a year, Kwasnowski suggested that he and other commission members also had more time to take deeper consideration on larger policy issues lying behind the community, such as affordable housing and the scoping process of the environmental review.

ReZone Syracuse

The affordable housing plan is another part related to the ReZone plan, which is in collaboration with the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development and is also part of the Resurgent Neighborhoods Initiative launched by Mayor Ben Walsh last year.

Michael Collins, the commissioner of the department, said that this plan hopes to ensure that houses that are extremely tax-delinquent or oftentimes vacant can either be resold to become functional homes or be deconstructed and built up to be new affordable houses for neighborhoods. The south, southwest and north sides of Syracuse have some new constructions, which are the areas with the challenges of housing, Collins added.

“ReZone (Syracuse) is a critically important project to make sure that every neighborhood has the zone, while we are creating new opportunities for quality life across the city for the areas that have been residential and will continue to be residential,” Collins said.

Besides the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, the planning agency also works with other organizations, including advocacy groups, property owners, business groups, neighborhood watch groups and nonprofit housing agencies for a variety of different issues. All these groups provided insights during the information sessions to help finalize the consolidated, as well as the final, drafts of the new zoning ordinance.

Starting April, the agency will start another round of public meetings in collaboration with several neighborhood organizations to inform the public and hear their feedback.

“One of the things that we’ve really strived to do is create a framework and architecture of zoning regulation that can be built upon, so we can do the things that people are interested in doing much more easily within this law than you could do with the old law,” Kwasnowski said.