Let’s Talk About This

The “above the fold” front page of the Trumansburg Free Press (and on page 12 of the Interlaken Review and Ovid Gazette) is called “Discussion Needed on Boundary Planning.” The reporter, Deirdre Cunningham, did not write the headline and also did not write the lede (lead) for the article*. It is the editor’s job to write headlines and the editor’s prerogative to alter reporters’ stories.

In this case I highlighted the fact that the Village of Trumansburg and the Town of Ulysses have different planning strategies for their boundary. The village comprehensive plan suggests that retail and other commercial development should be concentrated in the village center. The town’s 1999 comprehensive plan suggests that commercial development in the town should be focused on the main “entrances” to the village.

The older planning idea expressed in the 1999 town plan is that land uses in adjacent municipalities should match. This is apparently to avoid jarring changes that would leave a residence in one municipality hard against a completely different use just over the line.

In Trumansburg, however, the entrances to the village are serendipitously guarded by parcels that are protected from commercial development in various ways. On the south Smith Woods, with its ‘forever wild’ designation, is to the east and the fairgrounds are to the west. On the west, the golf course is along one side of the road and the cemetery along the other. On the north … well, there’s some history there …

As a result the commercial development in the village is unlikely to flow seamlessly into that of the town. Rather the towns’ commercial zones will float uncomfortably far from village commercial zones, producing a scattered pattern and reducing walkability.

The result of this zoning plan has been to create what I have heard former trustee (and village comprehensive plan initiator) Dave Filiberto refer to as “the dumbbell effect.” We have a long road going through the village (Main Street) with clusters of development in the town(s) at either end. This is essentially a special case of sprawl.

The Tompkins County comprehensive plan encourages “node development.” The plan urges that, where possible, historical hamlets should be revived. In the 19th and early 20th century places like Waterburg were the site of numerous mills, a couple of stores, a post office and several residences. While the mills are not likely to return (artisan factories and software companies are more likely), the county’s plan urges concentration of businesses and residences to promote a sense of community (walkability) and to prevent sprawl.

Some of this was mentioned in passing in the opening remarks and in at least one of the workshops on Saturday, April 12, hence the reporter’s passing reference to it in the middle of the story. However, I have been to (as a reporter) or edited the stories about numerous meetings over the past two years where this zoning issue has come up, hence my editorial decision to increase its profile in this story.

A community newspaper serves as the institutional memory for its readers. Very few of you have been to all of the meetings that our reporters have attended. We know how often things come up, and when they keep coming up then they are often important and need resolution. Trumansburg has completed its comprehensive plan and now the Town of Ulysses is completely rewriting theirs. Now is the time for members of both communities to sit down and talk about this particular issue and resolve it. And given the people involved, I think they will.

Take a look at the Town of Ulysses existing zoning ordinance, zoning map and a new existing conditions survey completed by Bergmann Associates, the planning firm that is assisting the town’s planning committee with the plan revision.

*And many will notice that I didn’t copy-edit my own edit very well. My apologies.

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3 responses to “Let’s Talk About This

  1. Deirdre Cunningham

    While it may be the editor’s job to write headlines and the editor’s prerogative to alter reporters’ stories, your sub-headline, “Town plan expects commercial development at village borders,” misrepresents the tenor of the workshop discussion regarding this issue: the use of “expects” is an inaccurate characterization.

    The Town’s comprehensive plan is a work-in-progress that will incorporate flexible, open, public discussions of possibilities, ideas, and suggestions. It is important for everyone to understand, especially the editor, that participation in the public sphere can be a personal challenge for some and it is often a learning process for the majority, including members of the steering committee who are volunteering their time on this project.

    The editor’s subheading gives the impression that a thoughtful discussion about commercial development did NOT take place and that a final decision had been reached, which simply isn’t true.

    We need more people to get involved with public discussions that impact the future of the Village and the Town; they won’t if they feel as if they’re being misrepresented by the press.

  2. Wow, what a gutsy reporter. She must have a special relationship with the editor, or she would have to fear for her job.

    I was at one of the workshops, and as I recall, the public participation was overwhelmingly in favor of limiting commercial development in the zone south of Shur Save and Kinneys.

  3. Actually, all my reporters are free to give me feedback regarding their stories appearance in the newspapers.

    I’m happy and not surprised to hear that the public was in favor of limiting sprawl, but it was also reported that there was conversation about orienting any additional building so that you could see through to the ag land beyond. Not exactly an unambiguous result.

    I remain concerned about the issue and believe that the spotlight should remain on it.

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