County has plan to enhance quality of life
by Beth Fittings
Jun 01, 2001
SYRACUSE - Since World War II, America has been moving out of the cities,
encouraged by municipalities that zoned former farmlands for single-family
residences. "Single-use zoning put us all on wheels," says Karen B. Kitney,
director of the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency.
Since World War II, homebuilding has been characterized by developments
that featured large tracts of land on winding roadways with houses set back
from the road, access and egress via miles of multi-lane highways, to
shopping malls and large centralized schools surrounded by acres of parking
lots. What was missing was pedestrian accessibility - sidewalks and safe
intersection crossings, as well as convenient access to shops and schools.
Andres Duany, author and founder, with Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, of the
Congress of the New Urbanism, has written the "Onondaga County Settlement
Plan," which, according to Kitney, is about to be presented to the county
Legislature for approval. Kitney say, that the plan, based on plans
developed by Duany and already implemented in other parts of the country,
"does not throw out old development," but plans new development to co-exist
with it. "It's a tool we're offering to communities." She calls it "more
product development than market development."
For a municipality, the settlement plan can become a guideline, helping
officials plan future growth.
Kitney says, "The Onondaga County population is not growing but has been
decreasing since the late '60s. However, it has grown geographically, 80
percent from 1970 to, 2000. That means we're paying for more infrastructure
for fewer people; we're abandoning and rebuilding schools, churches, public
buildings. People are abandoning the population centers. We feel strongly
that Syracuse is the center of the region; we want people in the center, but
also in the villages. So we've developed a plan for long-range settlement,
preserving our architectural heritage and environment."
Kitney says that this document recommends zoning changes and planned
building that, she says, "will maintain the quality of the built
environment" in the county and the City of Syracuse. The Settlement Plan
provides a guide, says Kitney, for municipalities to plan their development,
veering from the single-use environment that has developed in the last 50
years to a mixed-use one, providing, she says, 1) choices available for
walkable destinations and 2) a range of housing Suitable for people in
different stages of life. She adds, "The Settlement Plan talks
accessibility, about maintaining or developing mixed-use neighborhoods, not
eliminating cars but giving people a choice."
Duany's idea, says Kitney, is to develop a market demand to replace the
demand of the last 50 years for single-family, four-bedroom Colonials on
large tracts of land.
Eight pilot plans have been developed, says Kitney, "how municipalities
can grow as neighborhoods." Manlius, she notes, changed its zoning code on
its own and developed guidelines for growth. "They worked with the New York
State Department of Transportation on the reconstruction of Route 92 to make
it consistent with the village's Main Street setting." Other villages
working on a neighborhood plan are Fayetteville and Liverpool, Kitney points
out. These projects are set out in the Settlement Plan, with Duany's
recommendations for their development. Duany chose Harbor West in the Inner
Harbor development in Syracuse as one of the pilot neighborhoods.
The cost of these changes, Kitney says, will be decided by the
municipalities. "We offer guidelines." Much of the cost, she says, will be
borne by private developers. Kitney points to Pioneer Development and its
"new traditional" development in Camillus, Annesgrove. Demographics helps,
says Kitney, making these kinds of developments more attractive. "The Baby
Boomers are looking for independent housing, high quality but with less
maintenance required, and sidewalks."
Kitney notes, "We haven't built anything in our urban centers since the
1920s." "If this [Settlement Plan] is successful," says Kitney, "we'll have
more development in and around, community centers."
Public transportation, says Kitney, is a significant factor in rebuilding
urban centers. Duany points out that one-third of the population can't drive
at any one time, either because they're under 16, poor, or too old. When our
current public transportation system was private, says Kitney, "it was a
going concern." Of course, she adds, "we had nine times the population
density we have now." And, she says, "our road systems and parking are
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