Onondaga County Legislature meets at the County Courthouse on Montgomery Street. Photo by Julie McMahon | Central Current. Credit: Julie McMahon

Onondaga County Legislators will vote Tuesday to dissolve the Syracuse-Onondaga County Planning Agency and make it into a county-focused planning department.  

If the vote passes, the city will take on additional zoning administration responsibilities and SOCPA will formally be named the Onondaga County Department of Planning. 

The city and county have shared planning services in some form since 1967. At the time, Syracuse’s Office of Zoning Administration was staffed with Onondaga County employees. About 10 years ago, the city’s planning services staff became part of SOCPA. 

The new planning department will focus on planning at the county level with more limited long-range planning for the city, Onondaga County Executive spokesman Justin Sayles said. 

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh first announced the planned change in January at his State of the City address. 

“In doing so, we will achieve a long sought-after goal of establishing a true ‘one stop shop’ for city permitting and development,” Walsh said in January, “and at the same time free up county planners to better facilitate smart, sustainable development in the suburbs and city alike.”

If the change passes, it will add to the responsibilities of Syracuse’s Neighborhood and Business Development department: It will take on additional zoning, city planning and sustainability work. 

The Common Council has already approved a request from the mayor to create a deputy commissioner of code enforcement and a deputy commissioner of planning and sustainability to handle the increased work. 

The city’s 2023-24 budget also included four additional positions for zoning reviewers, according to city spokesman Greg Loh. 

City officials plan to centralize all permitting staff at the Central Permit Office at One Park Place, which is located at the corner of South State and East Fayette streets.  

The changes come as the city is attempting to reform its zoning code and as the county is trying to formalize its own comprehensive plan. 

Plans to create new zoning regulations in the city may come to fruition in the next month. The Common Council will hold the last public hearing about the new regulations on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The council will then likely vote on whether to pass the regulations on June 20. 

Meanwhile, County Executive Ryan McMahon has proposed what would be the county’s first Comprehensive Plan in nearly 30 years. County executives have proposed other plans in the past three decades, but those have languished in the county Legislature. 

Sayles said the county solicited for community design and planning firms that could help create designs to implement the plan — specifically to design town centers and corridors that support multiple forms of transportation. The county identified five teams of consultants who could be called upon: 

  • Bergmann, which is based in Rochester and is part of Colliers Engineering and Design
  • EDR, Syracuse
  • MIG, Brooklyn
  • SWBR, Syracuse
  • Stantec, Albany

The Onondaga County Legislature plans to hold a public hearing about the plan on July 5 at 12:55 p.m., just five minutes before the body’s next session. It’s likely the Legislature would then vote on whether to approve the plan at the 1 p.m. session. 

Read more about government & Politics

Suggested Reading

Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or libonati@centralcurrent.org.