By Ashley M. Casey
Efforts to standardize zoning in the town of Cicero hit a speed bump as residents questioned who would really benefit from the zone changes.
Supervisor Mark Venesky said the town’s re-zoning effort, which began in 2016, seeks to correct the patchwork zoning in Cicero. The zoning problems stem from too many use variances, which led to numerous properties with nonconforming uses and properties that contain multiple zone classifications.
“From what I can ascertain … there has been no consistent zoning in the town of Cicero for a long time,” Venesky said.
The town board held a public hearing at its May 10 meeting regarding zone changes for portions of Lakeshore Road, Mud Mill Road, Weaver Road and State Route 31. Most properties included in this round of zone changes are zoned agricultural (AG) and would be changed to residential zones R-10, R-12, R-15 or R-20.
Several residents raised concerns about how the zone changes might benefit Mufale Builders, which owns several properties on Carmenica Drive. Those properties are currently zoned General Commercial and could be changed to General Commercial Plus (GCP), which encompasses the following allowable uses:
Former Town Councilor Pat Rizzo said she served on the town board for eight years and never encountered issues with residential zoning.
“In eight years I never had a resident that wanted to change their zoning. It was always somebody who wanted to go commercial,” Rizzo said. “Pardon my Brooklyn accent — I think this is a crock.”
Rizzo said residents probably do not understand the purpose of the zone change proposal.
“I don’t want people stepping on the small people,” Rizzo said.
Town Councilor Jonathan Karp said the standardization of zoning protects homeowners from added costs if they want to improve their property, sell their home or rebuild if they lose their home to a fire.
“Perhaps in the past no one cared [about the zoning], but nowadays we do,” Karp said. “If someone is on one of these nonconforming parcels, they can continue to live there and no one’s going to cite them because they’re nonconforming. But if they want to add a deck or even a pool, they’re not going to get that deck or pool because they need that permit because their property’s nonconforming.”
Director of Code Enforcement Richard Hooper agreed with Karp. He said an individual property owner seeking to change their zoning would face thousands of dollars in application and legal fees to go through the zoning board of appeals process.
“It’s a favor to the residents,” Hooper said.
“This is not a power grab. It’s a benefit to people,” Karp said.
Venesky said homeowners who do not want the zone change can opt out and request that the town carve their property out of the proposal.
“Our goal here is to clean up an issue,” Venesky said.
Anne Anthony, a resident of Persian Terrace, said Mufale Builders requested a zone change for the Carmenica Drive area a few years ago.
“There was a discussion about how we could all smell the coffee from Paul deLima. There was a discussion of the noise factor that comes [from commercial and industrial development],” Anthony said.
Anthony suggested that since the Carmenica Drive has not attracted commercial users, it would be better suited to a residential area or a town park.
“You could have a lovely gazebo in the center of it to hold the town Christmas tree and have a place where people could park,” she said. “You have a lot of businesses in the Cicero area that might be able to be persuaded to provide some of the things that are necessary: repaving, for example.”
Anthony said re-zoning Carmenica Drive as GCP would attract uses of the property that are “wholly inappropriate” for the area, exacerbating traffic and other nuisances for the neighboring residents.
Kathy Leo, another Persian Terrace resident, asked what zoning errors needed to be corrected on Carmenica Drive.
“It sounds like the owner of the property might benefit from this,” Leo said. “Why don’t they get their own lawyers and go through this whole zoning thing on their dime?”
Venesky said if the zone change proposal does not go through, Mufale Builders may have to seek a zone change on its own.
“The owner of that property has not been able to sell it, and she approached us and asked if we would consider [a zone change],” Venesky said.
Venesky said public input is important to the town board’s decision-making process.
“These decisions are made with your input, and we’re not going to change anything if you don’t want it,” he said.
The public hearing remains open.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.