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Syracuse takes another step toward approving overhaul of zoning ordinance

A green-painted Syracuse graffiti on a brick wall.
Scott Willis
Downtown Syracuse graffiti dedicates Syracuse as "the mighty Salt City."

Syracuse's years-long effort to modernize its decades-old land use priorities has taken another step toward the finish line. Common Councilors on Monday approved the final environmental review for ReZone Syracuse, a state requirement that ensures no negative impact on the environment happens during rezoning changes.

Councilor Pat Hogan said the updated ordinance would address anticipated growth if ReZone Syracuse is approved early next year.

"What's happening with Micron and the other great initiatives across the community is that we want to be nimble and flexible enough to address those things," Hogan said. "We don't want to be so siloed that we don't understand what might happen down the road." 

Assistant City Planning Director Owen Kerney is leading the ReZone effort. It's the first update since the late 1960s when Mayor Ben Walsh's grandfather was mayor.

"We know there's growth; we know there's investment," Kerney said. "ReZone is an opportunity to create a zoning ordinance to keep up with those opportunities and even plan for future opportunities." 

He said one of the critical recommendations addresses the need for affordable housing.

"The City of Syracuse has never had affordable housing requirements," Kerney said. "We're taking a big step toward creating affordable and equitable housing in our community. ReZone does that."  

In fact, he said Syracuse will be one of the only upstate cities to require affordable housing within zoning laws. Kerney said the proposal also includes right-sizing development reviews.

"Smaller proposals can get a quicker, more efficient review, and larger proposals…larger development or redevelopment projects get a full, robust review as they should," Kerney said. "That's something we need to make sure we get right. We have the community involved, and that goes through a robust public dialogue." 

Kerney said it's a departure from the current one-size fits all approach. The city's planning and zoning divisions and law department will draft the final ReZone Syracuse ordinance. The map then willl be reviewed by city planning and the common council. The review will include opportunities for public input. The council could give its approval early next year.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at