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Syracuse councilor drops plan for special permit review of 'care homes'

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
A sign near the Park Ave. neighborhood in 2020, opposing Catholic Charities moving a homeless shelter to the area.

Syracuse lawmakers are dropping plans to change zoning laws that would affect development of what are called “care homes,” which include group homes, homes for the disabled and homeless shelters. There was a push to require a special permit review of the homes. It’s already required for most residential districts, but not for commercial and industrial zones. Some nonprofits oppose the change.

Councilor Pat Hogan said requiring a special permit would give the Syracuse Common Council an opportunity to vote on allowing care homes in commercial and industrial zones that are close to residential areas.

“The special permit process allows the public and the people in the affected neighborhoods a say in the process in a public forum as opposed to the relative obscurity of the Planning Commission,” Hogan said. “It promotes openness and transparency and democracy.”

Hogan gave two examples for why the change is needed. In 2018, Crouse Hospital planned to renovate the former Sears building into an outpatient drug treatment program on Syracuse’s south side, and last year, Catholic Charities planned to move a homeless shelter near the Park Ave. neighborhood. Both projects were dropped after residents and business owners complained.

But Hogan withdrew the legislation because it provoked what he called an indignant response from the nonprofit community.

Sally Santangelo, executive director of CNY Fair Housing, said she’s glad it was withdrawn.

“It would make it more difficult for care homes to be built," Santangelo said. “Any time in zoning code where you create points of contention and decision making, it not only increases those costs, but it also creates opportunities for resistance to stop these proposals."  

She also said it would result in disability discrimination, because a number of different facilities, including nursing homes and homes for the disabled, fall within the definition of care homes. She prefers a planning or zoning commission to look at care home proposals, because they can be more neutral or fact-based.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.