ReZone Syracuse and Housing Supply in Older Neighborhoods

When a house in Syracuse is in such bad shape that no one would invest the money to repair it, then it makes sense to demolish that building. In a neighborhood that’s losing population and doesn’t need the housing, that newly vacant land can be put to good use as a side yard or community garden. In growing neighborhoods like the Northside, it makes more sense to let people build new houses on those vacant lots.

The City is currently rewriting its zoning ordinance as part of a project called ReZone Syracuse. The most current proposed draft ordinance restricts all new residential construction to lots at least 40 feet wide.

The Northside is jam packed with lots that are 33 feet wide. Narrow lots like these are common in Syracuse’s older neighborhoods. If the City adopts its current draft zoning ordinance as law, it will be illegal to build any new houses on these lots, and any demolition will permanently reduce the available housing stock in those neighborhoods. That will cram more people into the remaining apartments and houses, drive up rents and mortgages, and make it harder for people to make a life in the City.

This is a real problem. As of January 19, 2017, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank owns 218 vacant lots within the City. 86 of those lots are between 25 and 39 feet wide–large enough to build a normal-looking house, but technically non-buildable under the proposed draft ordinance.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The current zoning ordinance mandates that all residential lots be at least 40 feet wide as well, but it allows for construction on existing narrow lots through a special exemption for parcels created before 1962. A similar exemption in the new ordinance would eliminate this problem.

While Syracuse loses population, it makes sense to also reduce its overall supply of housing, freeing up city land for other more beneficial uses like community gardens and private yards. It doesn’t make sense to reduce the housing supply in every neighborhood, and it doesn’t make sense to reduce it permanently in any neighborhood. Some neighborhoods are still growing, and others will eventually grow again. The City’s proposed zoning ordinance threatens that growth by placing an unnecessary limit on the housing supply in Syracuse’s older neighborhoods. The proposed draft zoning ordinance must be amended to allow for construction on existing lots.