ReZone Syracuse: need more parameters to distinguish R1 from R2 character

R1 zoning should protect owner-occupied, family-oriented neighborhood character.

May 3, 2018

It seems to me that the parameters in the new Zoning Law that define and distinguish between the R1 and R2 zones are insufficient. Essentially, only the building type changes. Without additional differentiating parameters related to USE-TYPE, the two zone types can acquire the same character/appearance over time. If, for example, an R1 zone—which traditionally is conceived as an owner-occupied, family-oriented, non-transient neighborhood—can easily transform into a primarily commercial-rental, non family-oriented, transient neighborhood, one might reasonably ask why define these two zones separately? Of course, there are good reasons to create a variety of residential zones, but only if they are defined in sufficient detail to distinguish and preserve their intended character.

It's important for a city to have a full variety of zone types in order to satisfy the needs and preferences of all potential residents.

People don't choose an area to live based on the definitions in the Zoning Law. They choose according to what the area looks like, and what the surrounding areas look like. Another consideration is the impression of whether the neighborhood is stable, for example: 1) will it remain family oriented the next 10-20 years as I raise my children?; 2) might the less desirable character of the surrounding area encroach?; 3) will major upgrades to the house retain their value, or do home values in the area look threatened by adjacent neighborhoods?

If the Zoning Law defines different residential zones in ways that clearly protect their intended character in the long-run, a prospective home buyer will be more willing to buy.

Many people who work in the city buy houses in the suburbs because they could not find a satisfactory (and reliably) owner-occupied, family-oriented, non-transient neighborhood in the city. In the suburbs it's easy; one knows that the typical residential subdivision will retain its existing character 20 years hence. Zoning is the key.

When NYC rezones a mid-rise neighborhood to unlimited height, a flood of high-rise developments results. When a plot of land in the middle of nowhere in the suburbs is subdivided and zoned as large single family residential lots with large minimum house size and called a "luxury subdivision", suddenly there is demand there for $400,000 houses.

If Syracuse, through its new zoning law, defines a variety of distinct residential zones, the most restrictive of which having the most protection of their intended character, it will attract a huge latent demand for housing from people who work in the city and play in the city but live in the suburbs. We might start seeing high-priced homebuilding in the city again—after how many decades?