© 2023 Innovation Trail

Onondaga County fights sprawl with "living plan"

At Syracuse's Oncenter on Tuesday night: No public brainstorming session is complete without giant post-it notes.
Emma Jacobs
At Syracuse's Oncenter on Tuesday night: No public brainstorming session is complete without giant post-it notes.

From 1998 to 2007, Onondaga County added 7,000 new housing units. Housing unit size went up 40 percent.

The county also added 61 miles of road.

From 2001 to 2008,  the county laid 147 miles of water-moving pipes.

But in all that time, the population of Onondaga County - which includes Syracuse - has remained totally flat.

Meaning: less water is actually being delivered, but the cash-strapped county is spending more on the infrastructure to deliver it."We have the same number of people and we are spreading out," says County Executive Joanne Mahoney. "We have to understand what the environmental implications of that are, as well as the economic."

A "living" plan

So for the second time in not so many years, the county is working on a strategic plan to guide growth: a sustainability plan.

Vehicle miles traveled - with all that to-in and fro-ing from growth at the periphery - are also up 43 percent since 1990. That makes this spreading out not just an economic issue, but a health concern and an environmental problem, due to emissions.

The county has brought in an outside consultant, Bergmann Associates, to help crunch numbers and formulate recommendations. But the team won't be producing your standard book of guidelines and maps.

They'll be making a website.

Bergmann's Andrew Raus is a planner who's been working across New York State for many years.  He says he has to believe the future is in "living plans," with online forums that can be updated and referenced.

"In ten years if I'm still delivering paper documents," he admits, "I may have missed the boat."

Next steps

The sustainability planning, which began in May, should be completed by December. 

Tuesday's meeting at the Oncenter convention hall in Syracuse was the first time the planners took input from the public on what they'd like to see.

County planner, Don Jordan called the session a "visioning workshop."

He says citizens can continue to contribute to the process on the new website.

"They [can] provide comments, review draft materials as they become available," he says, "and ultimately use resources that come out of this planning effort."

But attendees to Tuesday's workshop had a lot of questions about how dreams for the region can become realities.

Tim Aron was confused about how much municipal governments could actually accomplish.

"Individuals decide where they want to live, develop and build houses for themselves, so there's a bit of the market system there," Aron points out. "Yes, we all say 'Syracuse would be better if we had a stronger industry' ... so what does Onondaga County do about that?"

Curious to read more on the plan? The beginnings of the site are already online, at future.ongov.net.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
Related Content