ReZone’s Rules for Rowhouses

Rowhouses combine many of the benefits of both single-family and multi-family housing. They all have first floors at ground level, so everybody gets a front stoop and a backyard, and the houses don’t take up much space, so many families can live within walking distance of schools, shops, and bus stops.

But not all rowhouses are created equal. These, on the corner of Lodi and Gertrude, are all on their own individual lots. Even though they’re connected, each house is a separate building, meaning that each one is an opportunity for someone to become a homeowner. That’s the opportunity to build equity, accrue wealth, achieve stability.

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There are more rowhouses the next block down on Lodi. These are really just one big apartment building on a single lot. It’s owned by just one person, so fewer people have the opportunity to secure the many benefits of homeownership.

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That’s a big difference, but it’s one that City Hall’s new draft zoning ordinance doesn’t recognize. Here’s all that the draft has to say about rowhouses:

“[Dwelling, Multi-Family] includes both stacked and side-by-side units. The current Syracuse ordinance includes some references to “townhouses” in some districts as distinct from “apartments.” In some communities, we include a use type called “single-family attached”; however, staff prefers not to introduce that term in Syracuse and to use instead a broad definition of “dwelling, multi-family.”
pg 233

So are rowhouses single-family or multi-family? Can somebody buy a single rowhouse, or do they have to buy a whole set at once? Is this different from building multiple single-family houses with party walls on narrow lots as is allowable in zoning district MX-5, but nowhere else? Do the ordinance’s minimum lot dimensions for multi-family housing apply to a single house in the row, or the row in its entirety? Are rowhouses allowed in zoning district R-2 where the ordinance bans ‘multi-family housing’ but allows ‘2-family housing’? There aren’t obvious answers to any of those questions in the ordinance as it’s currently written.

Rowhouses can have an important place in Syracuse’s future. They create more opportunities for people to own a home that’s within easy walking distance of daily needs. Building more of them would bring more of those opportunities into the City’s existing neighborhoods, and they’re a good option for building entirely new neighborhoods at the Inner Harbor and the Almond Street area.

Before that can happen, though, City Hall needs to amend its new zoning ordinance to clarify its rules for rowhouses. It should make it clear that rowhouses are a type of single-family housing, that they’re allowed in all zoning districts, and that they can be bought and sold individually. Simple changes that will make for a better Syracuse.