Syracuse Looks to Bring its Zoning Ordinance into the 21st Century

May 11, 2016

The City of Syracuse is embarking on the first complete revision its  zoning codes in nearly a century.   Officials say the overhaul of land use regulations is needed to keep the city economically competitive. 

This map might give some indication of what future zoning could look like.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

When Syracuse’s zoning code was enacted in 1922, John Henry Walrath was mayor…remember him? And Warren G. Harding was president.  Trains were still rolling through city streets, and the automobile industry was taking off.  So, much has changed since then…except for Syracuse’s zoning code.  Owen Kerney is assistant director for city planning with the Syracuse/Onondaga Planning Agency. 

"As with many communities, there was the initial establishment of the zoning," Kerney said.  "Then there was adjustments, amendments, changes over the past 80 or 90 years.  What that has produced is a zoning ordinance that is a patchwork of rules and regulations."

Kerney says they’re making the changes as part of the Syracuse comprehensive plan 2040.   He says there’s a dual purpose.

"Zoning is a means to not only protect what we have, but enhance what we're going to do," Kerney said.  "Whether that's infill housing development on some of the vacant parcels we have.  Whether that's new construction or development along our commercial corridors.  Or, whether that's new construction downtown or renovations to large, existing downtown buildings."

About 50 people gathered for the first public meeting about the zoning overhaul proposal earlier this week. Future meetings are planned.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

Kerney says residents and developers have had to navigate an ordinance that shows its age.

"The organization of it is difficult to understand.  The definitions, the words, the uses are outdated," Kerney said.  "It doesn't do a good job of explaining the process they're about to embark on.   These are all things that we've heard that could be improved, and that we intend to improve as part of this project."

  Discussion of refreshing and updating the city’s zoning code comes amid a larger conversation about modernizing local government in Onondaga County through mergers or consolidation.  Kerney says they’re working independently.

"Discussions about infrastructure, transportation, or consolidation, any of these things I expect will help  influence the work that we're doing," Kerney said.  "But we're on a fairly aggressive schedule, I dare say a schedule that may be a bit in front of some of those other discussions."

So, in the meantime, he says they’ll forge ahead to create a more modern, user friendly zoning ordinance in an effort to shape the future of the city.

The city's current zoning map.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

  "The changes and the updates that we're making to our zoning ordinance over the next year and a half will have visual impacts on our community over a 20 year or 30 year period," Kerney said.   "And it's our hope and expectation that those will be positive improvements."