Municipalities in New York have the authority to adopt zoning and local laws related to land use under the state's "Home Rule" provision. The Town of Cazenovia adopted zoning in 1964, and has subsequently amended the code from time to time. Currently, Cazenovia has three residential zones, Residential A, Residential B, and Residential B New Woodstock, with little distinction in allowable uses. Two parcels are classified as Industrial, Stearns & Wheler on Route 20 and the town highway garage on Constine Bridge Rd. Certain commercial uses have been permitted by variance or special use. The minimum lot size in the vast majority of the Town is 40,000 square feet (just under one acre), with the exception of the lake watershed, where the minimum lot size was increased in 1991 to 80,000 square feet. Lots that were non-conforming at the time zoning was adopted or modified remain legal.
Over the years, several community-based planning initiatives have been completed, resulting in the 1991 Land Use Guide and the 2002 CAPP report. An important element of these planning initiatives was the opportunity for the Cazenovia community to articulate its vision, that is, to define what contributes to the "sense of place". While the vision statements vary in their language, unifying themes include preservation of the rural, agrarian landscape, support to the agricultural community, protection of natural resources, including the lake, and maintenance of the close-knit community character. The challenge is to translate these abstract elements into specific action steps to achieve the vision. Planning documents are not legally binding; they set directions and goals. Implementation requires adopting local laws, such as those under consideration related to zoning and subdivision of lands, allocating funds through the municipal budget, and other actions with the force of law.
Beginning with the Wal-Mart debate of the late 1990s, it became evident that the 1964 zoning code, as amended, was not effective in guiding development in a way that would help the community achieve its goals. Proposals for annexation and commercial development along the Route 20 East corridor revealed many weaknesses and inconsistencies in the existing zoning code, including the lack of site plan review authority for the Town Planning Board outside of the lake watershed. Prime farmlands in the southern portion of the town were sprouting homes along the roadways, and some retail enterprises in the Village were struggling. The quality of Cazenovia Lake was in decline. Clearly, it was time for the community to undertake the task of updating the local codes.