March 25, 2004

County Comprehensive Plan examined in Varna

Senior Planner Heather Filiberto and Planning Analyst Tom Mank of the Tompkins County Planning Department presented work on the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan last night at the Varna Community Center.

The scope of the county plan is very different from the Town of Dryden Comprehensive Plan. The county is not specifying details of how to build in the county, as that's the job of local municipal governments, but rather performing tasks like "coordinate existing plans", "foster intergovernmental collaboration", and "address regional issues". The county plan will include some development scenarios, but Filiberto noted that "you will not see a land use map in our plan."

Attendees listen to Heather Filiberto describe the upcoming county plan
Attendees listen to Heather Filiberto describe the upcoming county plan.

The plan focuses on three clusters of issues: housing, transportation, and jobs; the environment; and neighborhoods and communities. Tompkins County has advantages and difficulties in all three clusters.

Tompkins County has had the benefit of better job growth than either New York State or the United States more generally over the period 1997-2003. While this job growth, derived largely from high tech and light manufacturing, is wonderful to have, it has created a new set of pressures.

Housing costs in Tompkins County are high and rising quickly, as the median cost of a home in Tompkins County has climbed from $100,000 to $134,000 in the last three years. The lower cost of housing in the rural areas of the county, as well as in surrounding counties, has encouraged more and more people to commute. The number of people paying more than 30% of their income for housing in the county, especially among renters, is high (even if students aren't included).

The high cost of housing in Tompkins County
The high cost of housing in Tompkins County, compared to surrounding counties. (Click the picture for a larger version.)

This commuting then puts extra pressure on roads in the county and the neighborhoods through which they pass, a large issue in Varna particularly. The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council is working on road planning, including a Route 13 Corridor Access Plan. (Tompkins County Area Development is also doing economic planning.)

The environment is another area needing attention. While Tompkins County has the benefit of some beautiful scenery, attendees of prior meetings have emphasized the need for a clear "scenic resource inventory and preservation plan", that sounds likely to become part of the county plan. Water quality needs to be preserved, and Jim Skaley asked later if septic system issues would be addressed as part of this.

It was hard to avoid contrast between the discussion of "strong neighborhoods" and the actual conditions in Varna, especially as trucks rolled by periodically. The slides presented people walking on sidewalks without cars everywhere, and the emphasis on the pedestrian nature sounded good, but doesn't reflect current reality, as came up in questions. Neither 366 nor Turkey Hill Road is a pleasant place to walk or bicycle. There was some discussion of walkability studies, and some hope of having one done in Varna.

Though there were only five members of the public attending (admittedly better than last week's Town Planning Board meeting with two), there were lots of questions, from septic tanks and water quality to managing car and truck traffic, to hope for the creation of a revolving fund for rehabilitating housing to revive communities and concern that proposals for infill at transportation nodes needs to fit with existing communities and not overwhelm them with sudden changes in density.

They also handed out a set of principles, policies, and action items. While not a plan in itself, it provides a rough guide to the kinds of things the plan is meant to accomplish and how they hope to get there.

On April 29, the Planning Department will be holding an open house from 3pm to 7pm and a public meeting from 7pm to 8pm at Dryden Town Hall (map).

Posted by simon at March 25, 2004 8:06 AM in , ,
Note on photos