The Future is Now? Another Look At Form-Based Zoning

9 02 2016

It looks like plans are starting to come together for the form-based zoning that is being considered for the Town of Ithaca. Form Ithaca, whom have been working pretty closely with the town on their new plan, released the results of a study on their website last month. Based on the date of the PDF (the 22nd), it looks like it went up before the neighborhood plan meeting, and the write up on that meeting will make it into the Voice at some point.

One of the key things that the code seeks to establish is to simplify the code from the current use-based setup (called ‘Euclidean” after the Euclid, Ohio court case that established its legality) to something based on size and shape. The current setup handles mixed-use projects poorly, and PDZ and PUDs create a whole lot of paperwork and eat up time the town could spend handling other issues. Another problem is that the Euclidean zoning purposely establishes work areas away from residential zones, which encourages car-dependent, parking-heavy types of development, the kind that are more expensive to maintain, more environmentally demanding, and increasingly out of favor, especially with younger demographics.


The above map is a rough idea of where Form Ithaca feels development would be best directed. The darker greens are either prohibited (O1, Preserved Land) or strongly discouraged (O2, Reserved Rural). Then from G1 to G3S, you have increasing levels of support for development and dense development. The only “new” neighborhoods established by the G3 zone are the South Hill Center (the 96B/King road intersection) and Cornell’s Maplewood Park east of the city. As already mentioned in the Maplewood writeup, Cornell’s pursuing a PDZ for the new urbanist project they have planned because their timing is a little quicker than Ithaca town’s – waiting for the new zoning would delay the project.

The plan also calls for retrofitting suburban areas, G3S. The 96B/South Hill Corridor,East Hill Plaza, and the city’s Southwest Corridor and Waterfront are targeted. The 96B corridor is currently undergoing a pedestrian and traffic study in part because the town wants to figure out how to protect pedestrians and encourage pedestrian-oriented development in what’s currently a suburban layout.

Recently, there have been privately-developed plans that haven’t been on board with these ideas. On the one end of the spectrum, early incarnations of the Troy Road housing development that was cancelled, which called for 200+ units in a “Restricted Growth Corridor”, a proposed type of zoning that suggests clustered development with substantial open space requirements. The project had been redesigned and reduced to fit 130 units in cluster zoning, but it was then cancelled. On the other end of the spectrum, the town is currently weighing a proposal to purchase agricultural easements on Eddy Hill Inc.’s farmland, which comprises most of the yellow on the southwest side of the town. That would prevent development in an area where development is thought to be more suitable.


The above image is a proposed zoning setup for the South Hill center. Neighborhood Edge defines more typical single-family home development (T3), Urban Neighborhood towards a Fall creek type of density (T4, townhouses, duplexes/triplexes, closely spaced single-family homes), and Main Street would be more akin to the State Street Corridor (T5), first floor commercial or other active uses with apartment and condos on the couple floors above.


There’s also an image regarding the Waterfront plans, but given the Maguire proposal, I’d rather wait until the dust settles and there’s a better idea of what’s going to happen.

This is all conceptual, and there are pros and cons – while it encourages less driving and establishes an activity hub in the town, it’s been noted that mixed-use can be more expensive to develop, which may be passed on to the occupants. Also, rezoning can impact current owners and create some tensions. Telling someone that density is encouraged in view of their house may not go over well, just as the landowner planning to sell to a housing developer may not be amused to find himself at odds with the town’s plans. But, given the issues facing Ithaca and Tompkins County, proposing something that attempt to address affordability, demographic and environmental issues is better than proposing nothing.




2 responses

9 02 2016

Denser development is OK by me. I think folks wanting to have a huge home on a 5+ acre lot will still be able to do so, just not with 150 other houses (and a nearby gas station/mini-mart) in the same location.
The Maguire waterfront proposal is the one to keep an eye on. The city let this one kind of sneak bt them (when Maguire bought the land) and must now play catch up. Could get nasty.

10 02 2016
B. C.

Trust me, those looking for McMansions with 5-acre estates will have all their prayers answered with the subdivisions just approved with Lansing (the homes in parts of Asbury Hill and Cayuga Way are marketed starting in the $650s).

My feeling is that the city, when they rejected waterfront rezoning in 2014, left the door open to projects like the Maguire proposal. The Maguires have bad timing, but (just like Cornell and the graduate housing situation) the city didn’t think ahead and now it’s going to cause problems. Just reading the comments on the Voice, the conversation is getting nasty, fast.

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