T-Burg group wants moratorium on development

By Jamie Swinnerton
Tompkins Weekly


Photo by Jamie Swinnerton. Scott Sears, a member of TBNA, introduces the presentation put together by the community group that is asking for a moratorium on development in the village.

A number of residents of the Village of Trumansburg and the Town of Ulysses have created a vocal and highly participative community group motivated by the same thing: Hamilton Square. When the sizable affordable housing project proposed for a 19-acre lot at 46 South St. in the village was proposed, residents with concerns about the projects size, placement, traffic implications, and style and character, among others. But this was just the start. After taking a closer look at the village zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan, the group, Trumansburg Neighbors Alliance (TBNA), is asking village trustees to put a moratorium on development until inconsistencies between the documents can be addressed.

At a special meeting of the Village Board of Trustees on Jan. 22, TBNA member’s Scott Sears and Paula Horrigan presented the concerns and inconsistencies the group found while studying the zoning, Comprehensive Plan and a housing study done in the village back in 2015.

Hamilton Square was introduced to the community as an idea back in the early summer of 2017 and in the following months developed into a plan that was presented and submitted to the Planning Board in August. But after hearing more feedback from the community, the project was reworked and resubmitted later. The current version of the project will be set on 15 individual lots and includes a mix of 10 affordable for-sale townhomes, six affordable rental townhomes, 17 market-rate for-sale homes, and 40 affordable rental units. The Trumansburg Community Nursery School will be situated on one of the lots with a 4,500 square foot school on the East side of the lot, connected to South Street by a private drive.

The project has changed in formidable ways since its introduction back in May. Even the name, Hamilton Square, is up for debate now and subject to change. A once segregated project by affordable or market-rate has become much more mixed, more of the trees on the lot will be conserved, more wetlands will remain undisturbed, and the number of buildings has been decreased from 29 to 19. But these are not exactly where the strongest concerns about the project lie.
“So, what’s our dilemma? Why is TBNA here?” Horrigan, a professor emeritus in the Department of Landscape Architecture at Cornell University, started her presentation with. “It wasn’t hard for a lot of us, including people like myself who have professional experience and a lot of affection for this community and have been around for a long time, to say ‘What is happening in the zoning ordinance that was completed after the 2008 Comprehensive Plan that’s allowing development – or at least potential development – that seems so unlike the patter, scale and type of housing and land use that distinguishes Trumansburg’s rural community character and which the Comp Plan prioritizes to preserve?’”

Over the next hour or so Horrigan compared the two documents and the differences between the areas of oversight that overlap them. After the 2012 Zoning Ordinance updates, Horrigan claims there was more flexibility and permissiveness in the largest housing district that covers most of the village, R-1, for higher density. Planned Development was added to the code, but not the zoning map to show where it could be built. Changes were also made to the code, Horrigan argued, without the necessary definitions to make the code clear and easily enforceable. Some of the definitions between the Comp Plan and the zoning were imprecise, Horrigan said, or flat-out contradictory.

Horrigan compared the village of Trumansburg to the Village of Cazenovia, which is of a similar size and population. Where Trumansburg has only two residential districts, Cazenovia has four R zones, a multi-family zone, and a Planned Development zone, allowing for more specific rules about housing in the village. Addressing these issues, Horrigan told the board, would give the Planning Board more power to demand things from a developer while reviewing a proposal.

Ultimately, TBNA is asking that the village board put a moratorium on development in the village until the issues they interpret in the zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan are addressed. Village Mayor Marty Petrovich finished the presentation time by telling those gathered that there would be more opportunities for public comment on the issue, and the trustees would be looking at how they want to move forward. Petrovich also stressed to the crowd that the presentation by TBNA was the opinion of citizens, not zoning and planning professionals.