Preserving Housing Opportunity in Syracuse’s Neighborhoods

On City Hall’s new color-coded zoning map, strictly residential neighborhoods are shades of yellow while neighborhoods with housing, businesses, and other institutions are different shades of blue. So far, City Hall has published three new drafts of this map, and each one has less blue and more yellow.

The change has been driven by community concerns about corner stores. In an interview with WAER, Assistant Zoning Director Heather Lamendola said “a lot of concerns stemmed around what has been dubbed a ‘corner store,’ and the adverse effects that the activity there might have on the adjacent residential neighborhoods.” In an interview with the Post-Standard, Mayor Walsh specifically mentioned “a corner store going in down the street from you” as something that concerns him.

People living in many of Syracuse’s neighborhoods have good reason to be wary of corner stores, and it’s good that people in power are listening to those concerns, but City Hall’s particular response goes too far, and it threatens to limit housing opportunity in Syracuse’s neighborhoods.

That particular response has been to take a lot of properties that were originally zoned as part of the light blue MX-1 district, and to switch them to the yellow R-2 district. City Hall has made this switch in several neighborhoods.

 

Changing all of those properties from MX-1 to R-2 will keep out corner stores, but it will also restricts a lot of other activity. Here’s the table of allowable uses for those two zoning districts:

MX-1 R-2
Residential Uses 1 Family Allowed Allowed
2 Family Allowed Allowed
Multi-Family Allowed with permit
Live/Work Allowed
Boarding House Allowed with permit
Public Uses Assembly Hall Allowed Allowed
Civic Building Allowed
Cultural Institution Allowed
Public Safety Facility Allowed Allowed
School Allowed Allowed
Park Allowed Allowed
Community Garden Allowed Allowed
Commercial Uses Private Club Allowed with permit
Beverage Cafe Allowed
Restaurant Allowed
Bed and Breakfast Allowed Allowed with permit
Office Allowed
Retail Allowed

Of all the differences between MX-1 and R-2, the most important have to do with housing. On MX-1 properties, you can have single family homes, two family homes, three- four- and five- family homes, apartment buildings, live/work homes, and boarding houses. R-2 properties on the other hand, only allow for one and two family homes. The switch from MX-1 to R-2 limits the variety of housing types in these neighborhoods, and that makes it harder for a variety of people to find a place to live.

Fortunately, there’s a simple way for City Hall to keep out corner stores without limiting people’s housing options. Here’s that same table of allowable uses with the R-4 and R-5 Districts included:

MX-1 R-2 R-4 R-5
Residential Uses 1 Family Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
2 Family Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
Multi-Family Allowed with permit Allowed Allowed
Live/Work Allowed Allowed Allowed
Boarding House Allowed with permit Allowed
Public Uses Assembly Hall Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
Civic Building Allowed Allowed
Cultural Institution Allowed
Public Safety Facility Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
School Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
Park Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
Community Garden Allowed Allowed Allowed Allowed
Commercial Uses Private Club Allowed with permit Allowed with permit Allowed with permit
Beverage Cafe Allowed
Restaurant Allowed
Bed and Breakfast Allowed Allowed with permit Allowed with permit Allowed with permit
Office Allowed Allowed with permit
Retail Allowed

Like R-2, zoning districts R-4 and R-5 do not allow corner stores. Like MX-1, zoning districts R-4 and R-5 allow multi-family housing, and district R-5 allows boarding houses. If City Hall is really committed to keeping corner stores out of the neighborhood by banning retail, it could at least let people provide themselves with all of the different kinds of housing allowable in the MX-1 district by zoning these lots as R-4 or R-5. It’s done just that in Hawley Green, where several blocks of Green and Gertrude Streets have been changed from MX-1 to R-4 as City Hall has revised its zoning maps:

 

Corner stores will not be able to move into these parts of the neighborhood, but at the same time, people will still have many different opportunities to find a place to live.

The zoning ordinance should allow for growth and flexibility. A landlord should be able to turn a two-family home into a three-family home if there’s enough people looking for housing to justify the cost of making that change. When individual people can make small adjustments like those, Syracuse will be able to respond to inevitable and unpredictable changes in population, income, demographics, and community needs in the coming decades. That’s what will make Syracuse a welcoming and resilient community.