Op ed: Rezone Syracuse Charts Path to Affordable and Equitable Housing

Published on June 05, 2023

By Owen Kerney, assistant director, Syracuse and Onondaga County Planning Agency and Sharon Owens, deputy mayor of Syracuse

The last time Syracuse had a new zoning ordinance and map we were still making calls with rotary dial phones. “Laugh-In” was the top show on television, and the first Starbucks coffee location in the country was still three years in the future. In Syracuse, the Interstate 81 viaduct was the new thing.

It’s been more than 55 years since the city’s zoning laws, which have a huge impact on land use and our neighborhoods, have undergone a comprehensive update. They were written as the city was slipping deeper into a long period of decline.

Today, Syracuse’s prospects are a lot different. Our population is on the rise, and the city was just named one of the top 25 best places to live in America. Syracuse is the epicenter of a resurgence that includes the $100 billion Micron mega chip plant,  the largest single economic investment in the history of New York State.

To ensure everyone can benefit from the city’s growth, we need a modern, forward-looking zoning code. Fortunately, built on nearly seven years of development and citizen engagement, we’re close to having one. ReZone Syracuse will deliver a new zoning map and ordinance for the city that is designed for the challenges and opportunities we face now and in the years ahead. It’s undergone a rigorous regulatory approval process and has been recommended by the City Planning Commission to the Syracuse Common Council for final review.

ReZone Syracuse is a people-first policy that will help make stronger city neighborhoods in which to live, work, and play. From increased density allowance, affordable housing requirements, more housing options and reduced parking requirements, ReZone Syracuse provides for the needs of our citizens and prepares for growth at a scale Syracuse hasn’t seen in a century.

Public Engagement

Public engagement was at the heart of the city’s ReZone process. The City held approximately 100 public meetings in various communities throughout Syracuse. In addition to these information sessions, the City completed the required New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) review with additional hearings at which public comment was solicited. The City held two additional informational meetings this past February, and the Planning Commission held a public hearing in March. The Syracuse Common Council has scheduled additional public meetings during its upcoming consideration of ReZone Syracuse.

Equitable Neighborhood Zoning

ReZone Syracuse expands allowable uses and housing types within residential districts throughout the city. Row homes and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are widely recognized to improve housing affordability and create attractive housing options for young people, multi-generational families and empty-nesters.

ReZone Syracuse creates a zoning framework to foster the equitable treatment of all residents throughout the city. Through the creation of mixed-use districts throughout the city along transit routes; provisions to improve walkability by creating human scaled environments rather than auto-oriented environments; improved public notice provisions on proposed projects; and new citywide design standards which increase the quality of all development, ReZone will reduce the equity-related impacts of zoning when compared with the current zoning ordinance and historical development practices.

Citywide Affordable Housing Requirements

ReZone Syracuse includes the first citywide affordable housing requirements in Syracuse history. It would require affordable and mixed-income housing to be provided in every development of 20 or more residential units. These regulations do not currently exist, and ReZone has proposed these measures to provide more affordable housing for city residents and mitigate exclusionary zoning.

Syracuse already faces a huge unmet demand for affordable housing. The gap could widen with upcoming investments in the region, including the soon-to-start Interstate 81 project. The adoption of ReZone Syracuse cannot wait another six to seven years for the completion of I-81. There are too many important provisions that will strengthen our business corridors, improve our neighborhoods, and benefit our community to wait.

ReZone Syracuse is the first step towards addressing the zoning needs of our growing community. It was a long time in the making and, unlike the code of yesteryear, ReZone Syracuse will provide the framework by which Syracuse can grow and prosper for the benefit of all residents. Adopting ReZone Syracuse will ensure the Administration and the Common Council have the tools to address the needs of the community both now and in the future.

Read it on Syracuse.com here.