January 20, 2011

Evaluating Zoning

For the last few years, I've watched officials and residents evaluating various drafts of the zoning law and listened to them talk about it. There seem to be two different tracks for evaluating it: a personal track and a community track.

On the personal track, people (myself included) walk up to the maps and find where they live, then look up what the rules are for them. Then they look around their immediate neighborhood - what can my neighbors do? I've also heard from a lot of people who've checked out places they care about. Some were natural areas, some were roads they drive frequently, and others were looking to places they hope something will develop.

I expect that the personal track is going to drive a lot of the map-drawing and some of the use table cases. There will likely be some conflict over where those lines and Xs go, but much of the new zoning tries to echo the old zoning. Well, rationalizing it a bit, but I suspect most Dryden residents won't notice an immediate change when (if) the new zoning is approved.

The community track is a lot more difficult, though it's what at least theoretically drives the Planning Board and Town Board decision-making process. How do all of these pieces add up for the Town?

The challenge there is different. It's less about specific locations - though they certainly can matter - and more about how the zoning will affect an uncertain future. The importance of zoning varies by the growth rate of the next twenty years:

Little change

If nothing much new gets built, the zoning doesn't matter all that much. Existing uses continue, but zoning really only affects changes in use.

Lots of Growth

If there is lots of growth, zoning becomes critical for directing it to places the Town considers most appropriate and limiting its impact in places the Town considers it least appropriate. This is probably the scenario where the details of the zoning create the most friction, as people start having more visions of what they have being worth a lot of money and only the town zoning standing in their way. It's also the scenario where residents see the changes that were once just lines on a map come to pass, and have to deal with the consequences.


We are a part of Upstate New York, right? Even though Tompkins County has generally done well, remaining at least stable while much of this region shrinks, it doesn't have to stay that way. While it's not generally considered polite, it's not hard to develop scenarios in which significant numbers of people leave Dryden. In this case zoning matters less for its restrictions on growth and more for its restrictions on adaptive reuse.

The story I told yesterday of rapid growth is one approach to making these kinds of community questions concrete. I'll be telling a few more variations over the next couple of months.

Posted by simon at January 20, 2011 9:06 PM in
Note on photos


KAZ said:

I've posted some graphs that make your first or third scenario appear more likely than your second--if trends continue: http://drydendailykaz.blogspot.com/2011/01/growing-or-shrinking.html