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 heavily subsidized."

Central New York Business Journal