December 3, 2010

Varna master plan getting started

Tuesday night's meeting at the Varna Community focused mostly on developing a plan for Varna, not Lucente's Varna II proposal, though there was some of that.

Environmental Planner Dan Kwasnowski and consultant Michael Welti of Behan Planning Associates led the conversation, with Welti presenting some introductory slides on the scope and schedule of the project, describing a similar project in Guilderland Center, and then leading a discussion of likes, concerns, and opportunities for Varna.

Varna Master Plan meeting.
Varna Master Plan meeting.

Some key points:

  • The scope of the study is what I'd call "greater Varna", including 366 from the Ithaca town line to the 13 intersection, as well as Turkey Hill Road to about Stevenson, Monkey Run and Forest Lane, Freese Road, Mount Pleasant Road, and Oak Brook Drive. (You can see the base map they had posted.) This worries me a little, as I'm not sure "greater Varna" knows this affects them. I was the only person in the study zone who lives east of the FH Fox bridge, and only one couple from Turkey Hill was there. (Update: In the end, the focus shifted back to "downtown Varna")

  • The project officially starts in Janury 2011, and aims for a conclusion in August 2011. There will be at least two meetings - a visioning meeting probably in March and a plan concepts meeting for April - between the start and end of the project.

  • They described a Study Advisory Committee of 7-9 people, including residents, small business owners, a large landowner, the Planning Board, Cornell, the state Department of Transportation and/or the county Metropolitan Planning Organization, and maybe others.

  • They'll also have stakeholder meetings and interviews, a project website, and updates on the Varna Community Center's bulletin board.

  • This may feed into zoning, but it's not a strictly zoning exercise. Transportation and even schools may be in the conversation, as well as other community-related projects.

  • The plan will examine possible shared visions, the carrying capacities of the hamlet's infrastructure and landscape, development alternatives, and identify actions for implementing recommendations.

  • The Town and planners acknowledged that they would build on the pile of input created by past Varna plans. It seemed like more than the usual nod in their direction, but we'll see.

Some of the things they hope to address include:

  • Volume and speed of traffic
  • Pedestrian, bicycle, and bus transportation options
  • Cost-sharing models for improvements
  • Land use plans and regulation
  • Desired character and sample designs that show it
  • Revitalization of businesses, homes, and the entrances to the hamlet
  • Infrastructure needs
  • Housing, including workforce housing and affordable housing
  • Resource protection
  • Trails, recreation, and public space
  • How to implement the above: priorities, responsbilities, organization, costs, and funding.

The broader discussion focused on things people like about Varna, their concerns for the future, and opportunities.

Likes included:

  • Location: easy and beautiful
  • Community Association: people know each other, and have a shared history.
  • Community Center, Varna Church, Varna Fire Company as strong core institutions.
  • Landscape, between the hill and the creek, with "downtown Varna" in a valley.
  • Small neighborhood/small town feel.
  • The "back door" to Cornell
  • Fall Creek
  • Great walking, once you get there. Cornell Plantations, railroad track.
  • Community center's commercial kitchen as small business incubator.
  • Auto repair center, with small businesses involved in community.
  • Doesn't feel overcrowded or empty.
  • Living in the country.
  • Historic housing patterns and architecture
  • Birds, forests, and fields.
  • Freese Road bridge
  • Reynolds game farm and its pheasants
  • Infrastructure - water, sewer, and cable.
  • Schools - Ithaca.

Concerns included:

  • Traffic -
    • Volume at peak
    • Speed off-peak
    • Accidents
    • Growth
  • Erosion of quality of life
  • Lack of support for families with children
    • Less and less housing designed for family use
    • Road/traffic
    • Affordability
    • Distance to Caroline Elementary School and ICSD's fondness for changing where Varna kids go to school
  • Fading/Decaying Housing
    • Some rental, some not
    • Traffic discourages repair/maintenance
    • Downward spiral
  • Houses tight to the road in downtown Varna - how hard to put in sidewalk?
  • Farm vehicles at 15mph (or is that a traffic calming device?)
  • (Past) loss of grocery, drugstore, restaurant, etc.
  • Eastern entrance to Cornell less attractive place to be when much development to your east
  • Drainage problems at the bottom of the hill - 4 sump pumps
  • Sewage issues - rising in parking lot
  • Public transport schedules sometimes full buses, sometimes empty, often loud.
  • Long-term future of Hillside Acres trailer park.
  • Challenges of community on a busy road with people moving in and out
  • Uncertain boundaries - what is Varna?
  • Balance of rental/ownership, and landlord responsibility in particular.
  • People spend their lives at Cornell, and home is just a place to sleep, not invest in community
  • Cornell's land stewardship - massive amount of local land, have resources to change land use if they choose to.
  • Concrete and gravel trucks for Cornell's apparently constant construction.
  • Public safety beyond the road - minor property crimes, but Sheriff/State Police not a lot of protection. Cornell police do seem to be doing some speed control, though.

And opportunities included:

  • Varna II proposers see the massive development they're working on as an opportunity
  • Cornell is investing $20 million in its surrounding areas, including trails. Dan Kwasnowski noted that Syracuse University provides housing grants to employees willing to live near campus, and also that the railroad bed trail's future seems to depend on the game farm.
  • A park & ride to reduce traffic through Varna.
  • The Parke-Dabes Natural Area on Mount Pleasant to the south of Route 366. It's 55 acres of town-owned land.
  • Setting priorities about what best to give up or invest more in.
  • Small business opportunities. Already a substantial mix, despite losses to larger regional markets.

I've also posted a gallery of some of the slides and maps at the meeting. Unfortunately my camera battery died about halfway through, but hopefully it's still useful.

Posted by simon at December 3, 2010 7:54 AM in ,
Note on photos