July 23, 2010

A corridor of lumpy sprawl

When I first looked over the new draft of the proposed zoning law, I expected not to love the hamlet zoning. The response to the Lucente proposal had been much more eager than I was happy about, and I wasn't surprised to see higher densities creep in there.

I was startled, though, to find that commercial zones looked a lot like the densified hamlet zones, and that they'd spread far more widely across the Town - a band along 13 even to the northeast of the Village of Dryden, with odd freckles of commercial zoning between the villages of Dryden and Freeville.

The 2005 Comprehensive Plan suggested a possible overlay zone on Route 13 to accomodate the complicated and problematic mix of uses that had developed there. The Route 13/366 Corridor study suggested avoiding further growth along 13, instead concentrating new housing in the Village of Dryden, Varna, and a possible "new node" at NYSEG. The current plan says what the heck and encourages denser mixed use across all of those areas, plus further to the northeast along 13.

If it's put in the right place, higher density housing is a great idea. Increasing density is what makes cities vibrant, makes transit systems possible, allows more efficient use of resources, and, done right, makes it easier for all kinds of people to live together while finding the opportunities that excite them.

If it's put in the wrong place, higher density housing creates isolated commuter communities without a whole lot to offer their residents. Water and sewer and a bus stop are basic foundations, not cause for rejoicing. Coming home to a townhouse in a neighborhood with shops and parks and schools and bars can be very exciting. Coming home to a townhouse that has nothing around except other townhouses and maybe a commercial strip is still coming home - but it has few of those shared advantages.

The good news is that densities of more than one unit per acre (and less than ten) can't happen until water and sewer lines reach an area. The bad news is that lots of these places are not too far from those lines, often closer than Etna, which had frequently been marked for future development.

I thought I'd found some really scary news last night while sitting at the public meeting, because there's a difference between the ways structures are regulated in hamlet zones and commercial zones. I added that to my comments. I was wrong about that, however - multi-family dwellings of any kind still require a special use permit. (I've written the comments email address to let them know.)

Development pressure had seemed fairly slow lately until this year, when developer after developer in Tompkins County seems to be putting new plans forward. The current zoning draft could have been an opportunity to ensure that development proceeds smoothly in Dryden. Instead, it's become more of an invitation for developers to build isolated clusters that complicate traffic patterns, offer their residents few amenities, and will become ever more isolated should gas prices rise. I'm not really sure why the Town wants to encourage such patterns of development well beyond the "nodes" it keeps discussing.

Posted by simon at July 23, 2010 12:23 PM in ,
Note on photos