The Troy City Council will soon be considering adopting a new zoning code, the laws that shape how Troy is developed in the future. The zoning code is the set of rules that developers must abide by, and the zoning code is, arguably, the strongest way the community can influence what their community looks like, feels like, and how it physically works.
The new zoning code, as proposed, is a huge step in the right direction for working people over the current code. It takes large steps to increase the ability of low-income people and people of color by lowering barriers to opening businesses that meet the needs of their communities and adding affordable housing options in wealthier parts of the city, among other things.
However, the zoning falls short of many of the laudable goals and metrics it sets for itself by retaining single-family exclusive districts and low intensity development. We believe that the council should remove single-family exclusive districts and the lowest intensity zone (labeled as Neighborhood I) because this type of development:
- Limits equity and housing affordability: single-family exclusive zoning is historically racist and classist, and was used to keep black families from moving to white neighborhoods. Allowing multi-family units alongside single-family ones can improve opportunity for affordable housing and diversity of both race and income levels in our community .(https://www.planning.org/blog/9228712/grappling-with-the-racist-legacy-of-zoning/)
- Damages environmental sustainability: the proposed code does encourage more environmentally sustainable development in parts of the city (mostly concentrated near the Hudson and South of Lansingburgh), but allowing low intensity and single use development areas still causes environmental harm. Additional vehicle trips and related pollution, energy inefficient buildings, and more inflict harm on all of us, whether we live in these typically more wealthy areas or not. (https://gppreview.com/2019/11/05/green-houses-greenhouse-gases-exclusionary-zoning-climate-catastrophe/)
- Causes traffic deaths and injuries: the code has a number of provisions to encourage the improvement of the safety of people walking, biking, or rolling. However, it does not strike at the root cause of most traffic violence: the necessity to drive for nearly every trip created by low intensity and exclusively single-family development. The more vehicles on our streets and trips taken, the more traffic deaths and injuries we see. Reducing this type of development will save lives. (https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1541)
- Creates fiscal imbalance and inequality: more compact development improves the city’s financial resilience by collecting more tax revenues per acre, and allowing us to build and maintain cheaper infrastructure and services per capita. By keeping single-family exclusive and low intensity zones, the more dense, typically lower-income neighborhoods will continue to subsidize the lower-density, typically wealthier areas in the city’s budget, increasing the cost of living for renters and encouraging displacement. (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/5/14/americas-growth-ponzi-scheme-md2020)
An additional issue is that while the proposed code encourages more mixed use development in more of the city – which increases the quality of life (convenient to grab something from the corner store) and reduces pollution (no need for a vehicle trip) – the code then undercuts this effort by including a buffer around convenience stores so that two stores can’t be across the street (or even down the block) from each other. This means that if the store closest to you doesn’t have the item you need, you may end up walking quite far, which encourages people to simply drive to the store. It also has the effect of granting those store owners who may not be great neighbors something of a local monopoly – making it impossible for competition to offer an alternative.
Given the social, environmental, health, and fiscal cost of single-family exclusive and low intensity development, it is incumbent on the council to remove this kind of zoning from Troy’s zoning code. The cost of inaction – and half measures – are real and born by the most vulnerable of us. We, the undersigned, call for the Troy City Council to remove the exclusionary and harmful single-family exclusive use districts and the lowest density zones, as well as the convenience store buffer from the proposed code.
Line Kristine Henriksen