January 22, 2019

City zoning update nearly done

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Traffic travels down Groton Avenue toward Main Street in Cortland on Wednesday.

A proposed final draft of an update to the Cortland City Zoning Code would create a student density housing overlay district close to downtown that would allow more residents per housing unit than elsewhere in the city, among many other changes.

The proposed update will be presented to the public and city Common Council at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting beginning at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The proposed code will regulate the use of land and improvements made to it to promote the health, safety and general welfare of the city, the document states. The code also is meant to make zoning guidelines easier to understand for property owners and developers.

The city has been working on the proposed zoning update for three years, said city Zoning Officer Bob Rhea. The city hired Rochester-based Ingalls Planning & Design and the Steinmetz Planning Group in May 2015 to undertake the project. The code was last updated in 2003.

It addresses the overlap of student housing on university hill with single-family residential neighborhoods. It also creates two sub-districts for business development:

• Regional general business districts, a GB-1 zone, that would allow the types of commercial development that would attract tourists and traffic volume, much like existing chain businesses on the east side of Clinton Street near Exit 11. The district would be in that part of the city near Clinton Street and Interstate 81.

• Local general business districts, a GB-2, would encourage development akin to the types of businesses in downtown Cortland. The district would be along portions of Port Watson Street and around portions of Homer Avenue.

One of the talked-about parts of the new draft is the creation of a student density housing overlay district along Groton Avenue between Main Street and Homer Avenue. “It’s a higher occupancy per unit than in the rest of the city,” Rhea said.

Jo Schaffer, a member of the city’s Housing Committee, which has reviewed the document, said the area is one of the city’s busiest and most congested.

Jim Reeners, a member of both thecity Planning Commission and city Housing Committee, which have reviewed the document, said there was next to no public input on the district or its location. “They (planners) never fully vetted it locally,” he said.

The district would allow no more than five unrelated occupants in one housing unit, more than the rest of the city where only three are allowed.

The district would foster higher-density student housing within walking distance of the SUNY Cortland campus and downtown Cortland while preserving nearby owner-occupied, single-family neighborhoods, the document states.

The zoning code does even more.

Rhea said changes would amend the site plan review process; narrow parking spaces by one foot; give better definitions; and update citywide design standards.

Additional business zones and regulations were also added, but nothing is changing significantly, Rhea said in April.

“It’s a really involved document,” Reeners said.

Reeners said there are plenty of pros and cons about the document.

“It’s hard to satisfy everyone,” Rhea added.

Once complete, the update won’t be set in stone, changes can be made. It could take as little as 30 to 60 days to make a change or correction, Rhea said. The city Common Council would vote to approve changes.

“It can be amended at any time,” Rhea said.

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