Mayor does/doesn’t support design guidelines

If we do a reading of the numerous ways in which Mayor Driscoll has supported the concept of design guidelines, which are necessary to sustainable development, then we get one picture:

January 4, 2007
CONTACT: Media Center
Colleen Deacon (315) 448-8005

City of Syracuse Receives $100,000 Quality Communities Grant

Syracuse NY- Today, the City of Syracuse Departments of Economic and Community Development received a $100,000 Quality Communities Grant from the New York State Department of State (NYS-DOS) for the City’s Design Guideline Component of the Comprehensive Plan. The program awarded grants to municipalities for projects related to smart growth, development planning and open space preservation.

Mayor Matthew J. Driscoll said, “We are very excited about this money that will further strengthen the Comprehensive Plan and are encouraged that our community groups will be involved in the reshaping of their neighborhood business corridors.”

These funds will be used to create design guidelines that will address Quality Communities Principles and ultimately improve four key Syracuse business corridors by developing them into thriving, economic centers. These corridors include:

1.  Geddes Street Corridor (from West Fayette Street to Fitch Street)
2.  Butternut Street Corridor (North Salina Street to Carbon Street)
3.  South Salina Street Corridor (From Taylor Street to Kennedy Street)
4.  South Avenue Corridor (West Onondaga to Hovey Street)

But a different picture emerged in Eastwood, on April 7, 2009, at a Neighborhood Watch Meeting, Mayor Driscoll stated that he wanted to be “on record” as being willing to revise or do away with the James Street Overlay District design guidelines – the only ones this city has, and has had for the past eight years.

A member of the Walkable Eastwood email group, upon learning of the mayor’s April 7 statements, sent in this quote from the mayor, referencing THIS ARTICLE at the American Planning Association’s website:

“This [design] process will not only offer new looks for certain city streets, but also is a real sign that our university and city are collaborating in ways to benefit the entire city and the wider region,” says Mayor Matthew Driscoll.

The Eastwood resident concludes:

“Let’s hold his honor’s feet to the fire. Lets compel him to uphold the Eastwood Design Review regulations.  Let’s keep Eastwood Walkable.”

We can safely assume that Mayor Driscoll rightfully and proudly supports the city’s Comprehensive Plan. So let’s see some of the elements to that Plan (reading the whole Plan is strongly encouraged):

From the The Commercial Areas Component: City of Syracuse Comprehensive Plan

Under Planning, Zoning and Land Use, on p. 27:

~ Problems ~

3. Lack of design standards
The current ordinance fails to adequately address aesthetics or the effective use of new design practices. Without a comprehensive set of guidelines it is
difficult to ensure high quality physical character.

5. Lack of guidelines to assess appropriateness of variance requests
The absence of objective standards by which to evaluate requests has led to an over-use and over-approval of variances.  Without an adequate set of guidelines it is difficult for the Board of Zoning Appeals to discern between variances that are augmentative and those that are detrimental to their context.

6. Inadequate public notification/participation  regarding variance applications
Current notification procedures reach only the closest properties to a location under review by city review bodies. Additionally, the information received is relatively vague and it is cumbersome to obtain clarification. This inadequate notification process leads to a situation in which not all businesses and residents who are affected by the property in question are aware of the zoning modification.

11. Absence of professional planning or design qualifications for appointees to the central Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.
Many cities require that some members of planning and zoning bodies have
professional qualifications in order to serve.  Syracuse, however, has no such guidelines, which at times can hinder decision-making.

On p. 29:

~ Opportunities ~

5. Use overlay zoning classifications to address commercial area aesthetics
Expanding the use and type of overlay zoning districts can more effectively
protect preferred commercial character.  Combined with increased and well-defined regulations for aesthetics through the zoning ordinance, specific overlay classification can provide optimal oversight for development in many city neighborhoods.

On p. 31:

Physical Form
~ Problems ~

3. Overall physical development strategy based on a suburban model.
The current zoning provisions allow for suburban-based development, that is physical growth focused on vehicular circulation while marginalizing the role of the pedestrian. The result is physical densities substantially lower than those typically associated with cities, and based on large lots and buildings, surrounded by ample parking.

~ Opportunities ~

8. Promote neighborhood contextual identity within business districts
By encouraging business owners to take into account the physical character of the surrounding area, and to compliment this character, a neighborhood contextual identity can be established.

So where does the mayor stand on the importance of enforcing design guidelines?

Somebody please answer this question in the comments section (below).

2 thoughts on “Mayor does/doesn’t support design guidelines”

  1. Maureen: I did in fact send an e-mail on April 26th to Mayor Driscoll asking that exact question. My last statement to him in that email invited him to attend the April 27th meeting and stand with us. He did not appear and he has not responded to my letter.

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