January 20, 2022

Cortland zoning drops student district

Kevin Conlon/contributing photographer

Port Watson Street near South Franklin Street, where Crown Liquor Store is located, is a mixed-use area that is part of a new business district in a zoning law approved Tuesday by the Cortland Common Council.

Cortland Common Council adopted a new zoning code Tuesday that was three years in the making, but removed a section that would create a neighborhood near downtown that would specifically focus on high-density student housing.

The new code, adopted 5-0, also creates two new types of business zone, one focusing on developing new and city-based small businesses; and one focusing on chain businesses and high-traffic zones for city visitors.

Four people spoke at a public hearing Tuesday, all in favor of the student density housing overlay district — but not where it was positioned on Groton Avenue. The district would allow more unrelated people in a housing unit — five instead of three — and cluster that housing to relieve pressure on nearby single-family neighborhoods.

“To put a higher density of student population in that area would, in my estimation, be a calamity,” said Jim Reeners, a city resident, a member of the city’s Planning Commission and housing committee.

Reeners also feels there was far too little input. “And if there was, it wasn’t from the right people,” he added. Those people would be people in the area of the district, the Planning Commission and the Housing Committee.

Reeners proposed adopting the new zone update except for the student density housing overlay until a new location is set, which would be more beneficial to the city.

Another resident, Abigail Cleary, asked council to consider removing the student density overlay as it stood. “In and of itself it’s not a bad concept, but given its current location and current conditions within the area of Cortland and area of which it’s intended, it doesn’t really make sense anymore,” she said.

Conditions now include limited space for parking and the narrow street.

Council voted, 5-0, to remove the portion of the student density housing overlay for further review.

Thomas Michales (R- 8th Ward) said council isn’t against an overlay district, but thinks they need to look into it more.

The new 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 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 new code 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 Avenue near Exit 11 of 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.
The city has been working on the proposed zoning update for three years, city Zoning Officer Bob Rhea has said, hiring Rochester-based Ingalls Planning & Design and the Steinmetz Planning Group to undertake the project. The code was last updated in 2003.

The new code does a number of things including addressing the overlap of student housing on university hill with single-family residential neighborhoods.