Board adds apartments to allowable uses
By Ashley M. Casey
Despite the dissent of several residents, the Cicero Town Board voted April 13 to add apartments of 24 units or more to the list of allowable uses for certain commercial districts in the town.
“The purpose of this legislation is to allow for the development of large scale apartment complexes in large commercial zones to facilitate mixed use environment high density residential uses in proximity to available commercial services. This initiative is considered upon a recommendation by the Town of Cicero Planning Board,” the resolution read.
Planning Board Chair Bob Smith, who is also a real estate broker, said current housing trends show that young professionals are more likely to rent an apartment than to buy a house.
“Our society, for whatever reason, is moving toward apartments. There is a huge demand for them,” Smith said. “Not everybody wants to live in downtown Syracuse.”
Smith said there are “orphan neighborhoods” in Cicero — residential areas surrounded by commercial properties with no buffer.
“The value of those homes is hurt right now because they literally could have another Walmart in their front yard,” Smith said. “People aren’t looking to buy a home immediately adjacent to commercial property.”
Apartment dwellers, on the other hand, are less picky and many even prefer to live within walking distance of shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants and gyms. Smith said apartment complexes generate less sewer and water use than single-family homes.
“Apartment complexes will add substantially to the tax base without adding to town services,” Smith said.
Smith said allowing high-density apartment complexes in commercial areas will reduce spot zoning and create a base of consumers to attract businesses to Cicero.
However, residents weren’t buying Smith’s logic.
“People don’t walk these days,” resident Deborah Gardner said in response to Smith’s claim that apartment dwellers would walk to local businesses. “Even if it’s two blocks down, they’re going to get in their car.”
Resident Tim Murphy said apartment complexes would exacerbate an already-problematic traffic situation in the town.
“Since most of Cicero’s commercial arterial connective corridors are already stressed with carrying capacity and costly maintenance that we are bonding for, wouldn’t it be a better policy to follow Clay with large lots and single-family homes on five acres?” Murphy asked.
Murphy also said apartment complexes would be an “incompatible use” with existing commercial zoning.
“Think of back-up beepers, large snowplows, car alarms, delivery trucks, transient people and 4 a.m. street sweepers. The safety issues and liability alone should be considered when sidewalks are rarely plowed in winter,” he said. “This isn’t smart planning, it’s poor planning.”
Supervisor Mark Venesky said apartment complexes are less of a strain on town services, and he is not in favor of tax breaks for high-density residential developers.
Resident Doug Wickman called the proposed zoning amendments “risky” if the town does not put detailed requirements in place.
Venesky said the planning board process will vet applicants thoroughly, and no high-density project proposals are currently in front of the town. He acknowledged that the town has problems with traffic and said they will be addressed. Venesky said New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll will meet with town officials May 5 to make recommendations for Cicero’s traffic situation.
“We also have to make ourselves attractive to people who want to invest money in our community,” Venesky said. “We are going to become the most business-friendly town. We need a huge infusion of tax money in this town.”
The town board voted 4-1 to add “Apartment Developments with more than 24 Residential Units” to the list of “Allowable Uses” for the General Commercial District (adding 210-12 E (2) (I)), Regional Commercial District and General Commercial Plus District zones. Councilor Mike Becallo cast the single dissenting vote.
“You had five or six people come up and speak against [this law]. Four of you went right ahead and voted for it,” resident Carol Pardee said. “That tells me not to get up here and speak again.”
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.