As an Eastwood resident who has long been interested in smart development for our walkable neighborhood, I feel I must express my grave concerns about the possibility of the Common Council amending the city charter in order to, as Sean Kirst put it, “… essentially overthrow the Planning Commission…giving the council immediate power over delicate planning decisions.”
We all know, as Sean said, that “…an absence of planning had the cumulative effect of making life miserable for walkers, who have a significant presence — but little political voice — in Syracuse.” In Eastwood and in other parts of the city, residents have successfully lobbied against suburban-style development that makes city streets unattractive and dangerous and that makes property values drop. In the mid-2000′s, it was my belief that City Hall really needed more trained, experienced planners on board so that development would be informed by people who had been educated to develop standards for design and who deeply understood how suburban-style development (oceans of asphalt) ruins cities.
Then Stephanie Miner campaigned on a platform of sound urban planning and was elected mayor. She made changes to personnel in City Hall, bringing in many who had the academic credentials and the experience necessary to plan well into the future for a city that has for too long succumbed to outdated or inappropriate planning.
Now we are being treated to the spectacle of the Common Council pitting itself against the rest of City Hall. While I deeply respect the enormous amount of work and commitment that the council members bring to our city, as well as the high quality of much of their work, I have to think about the inherent difference between government appointees and the elected members of the Council.
The appointees were brought on board because their combined experience and education means they are qualified to realize the campaign promises of effective urban planning. The Council, however, is made up of politicians whose job it is to please their constituency. This does not mean they have the tools necessary to create a viable, long-term development plan and appropriate set of development standards.
I applaud the Planning Commission’s efforts to protect the residential fabric of our neighborhood. Already, because Walgreens was allowed to have that sea of asphalt, it has set a precedence that Kinney’s wants to take advantage of. If the Planning Commission allows the razing of residential properties to make more parking spots, it sets yet another dangerous precedent. Planning decisions have consequences that affect the livability of our city for generations after the decisions are made. If I were to have major surgery, I’d want a specialist working on me to be sure of the best possibility for positive long-term outcomes. I’d never want a generalist, much less one beholden to popular opinion, to be doing that kind of work.
There are many difficult details that the Commission must still work out with the developer. If the Council insists on going through with an amendment to the city charter, it will take that much longer to get the details of this development worked out. We do not need more distractions, nor do the Planning Commission and the developers. We do want these two corners developed. We need to let our planners finish the job.
I have sought to learn about the backgrounds of the members of the Planning Commission and, upon reading them, I have found myself in awe of their many accomplishments. I include here just the tiniest portion of what I’ve learned about them, so that Syracuse residents might begin to have an idea of what a great team we have working to keep our city from being further blighted by inappropriate development.
Dr. Ruben Cowart is chairman of the City of Syracuse Planning Commission. Among his long list of accomplishments, he is the Chairman of the Governor of New York Medical Advisory Committee, he serves on numerous boards and has received national and local awards for his outstanding service. He founded Syracuse Community Health Center in 1977 which serves some 66,000 individuals, employs more than 400 individuals, and has an operational budget of more than 57 million dollars.
Linda L. Henley has a Masters in Public Administration from Cornell University, with many of her studies in community development. She was the first Director of Development for the Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative, has many years of experience as a fundraiser and has served on numerous committees and not-for-profit boards.
Rebecca Livengood has a BA with a major in Government and specialization in Urban Studies. She also earned a Master of City Planning from MIT with specialization in Environmental Design. Her thesis was on the impact of zoning and building codes on building form and site planning in two residential neighborhoods. She has served as an urban planner for an architecture and planning firm in Boston and in a variety of professional positions in twelve years at the Department of Community Development of the city of Syracuse.
George Matthews has been a member of the Syracuse Planning Commission since 2008, and has attended the annual Onondaga Planning Federation training conferences. He has been active in planning positions in numerous TNT committees, in parks initiatives and in academic planning committees at OCC.
Steven W. Kulick earned a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and attends the Annual Planning Conference for planning commission members presented by the Onondaga County Planning Federation. His extensive experience includes more than eleven years of experience in city government, including having led a team of professionals charged with developing a comprehensive plan for the City’s Urban Cultural Park Program.