Centro is looking at running a Bus Rapid Transit line between Syracuse University and the Regional Transportation Center. To the south, that line’s last stop will be in the middle of a neighborhood with lots of jobs, lots of people, and little parking. That all makes University Hill a place that where good bus service will work. To the north, the line will end in the middle of a bunch of parking lots and vacant land. That’s the kind of place where bus service will fail.
City Hall knows this, and it intended to fix the problem. The Land Use & Development Plan, written in 2012, says:
“Once major transportation corridors, to be served by bus rapid transit or some other regional public transportation mode, and fixed stations are identified… [City Hall should] designate the area immediately surrounding these stations as appropriate for pedestrian-friendly, high-density, mixed-use development”
LUP pg 31
The Plan doubles down on that when it designates the area as an “Industrial Legacy” and then says:
“New development and infill construction should be tightly focused within and around Neighborhood Centers (neighborhood business districts), Urban Core, Industrial Legacy, and Adapted Mansion character areas… Any new residential development in these areas will increase their density, support the economic base of these neighborhood centers, promote walkable development patterns, and support public transit service.”
Pg 38 of LUP
And the Plan gets very specific about what needs to happen in the area when it says:
“the area surrounding the Central New York Regional Market, Alliance Bank Stadium, and the Regional Transportation Center includes large areas of surface parking and vacant or underutilized property. When the Regional Transportation Center is connected to the Empire Corridor High Speed Rail this area will present a will-situated opportunity for high-density, transit-oriented development (TOD)… Zoning amendments should be made now to encourage TOD and prevent inappropriate industrial infill that might discourage this kind of development”
LUP pg 53
The Land Use & Development Plan talks over and over about how the area around the RTC has the potential to be a neighborhood where people don’t need to own a car, but that can only happen if enough people move to the area to support things like good bus service and small business. That’s why the Land Use & Development Plan recommended rezoning the area around the RTC to allow a lot more housing.
When City Hall put out its first draft of the new zoning map in February 2017, it followed the Land Use & Development Plan’s recommendation and made that area MX-3. Land zoned MX-3 can be used for all kinds of things including 1- and 2-family houses, apartment buildings, boarding houses, bars, microbreweries, restaurants, and office space. When City Hall released its second draft map in June 2017, though, it had made that area Light Industrial, and when the most recent map came out in March 2018, that area was just zoned Industrial.
An Industrial property can have a lot of the same commercial uses as a property zoned MX-3–it can have bars and microbreweries and restaurants and office space–but Industrial land cannot have any residences at all–no apartment buildings, no 1- or 2-family houses, nothing. It’s pretty clear, then, that if this area is zoned for Industry, then it cannot be the sort of “mixed-use” or “transit oriented” neighborhood that City Hall’s own Land Use & Development Plan says it needs to be.
It doesn’t have to be that way. City Hall should implement its own recommendations and rezone the area around the RTC to allow for both commercial and residential buildings. That will allow for the kind of neighborhood where Centro’s new BRT service will be most useful, the kind of neighborhood where there are lots of jobs and lots of people, the kind of neighborhood that will make this corner of Syracuse a good place to live.