Vital Communities Principles
Photo courtesy of Rick Manning, Northeast Greenways
In the past decade, the population of Tompkins County,
as in many parts of the Northeast, has grown at a modest rate while
the amount of land taken up by homes, businesses, roads, and public
buildings has increased at a rate that has far outpaced population.
This type of growth puts at risk many of the characteristics of Tompkins
County that we treasure. The Vital Communities Initiative is a response
to this trend; it is a conscious effort to guide the way our communities
When trying to envision life in the future, one thing
is a given: things will change. If past growth patterns give us an indication
of future growth, the types of changes we could see include:
Loss of population (and related loss of businesses and tax base)
in the City and Villages;
More new commercial and residential development along roads in
the rural and agricultural areas;
Increased traffic along rural roads and in the urban areas;
Increased taxes and fees to pay for additional public services
(e.g., water, sewer, schools, police, fire, public transportation,
and road construction and maintenance);
Loss of vitality in traditional community centers;
Loss of agricultural lands, natural habitats, and open space;
Increased amount of time people spend in their cars;
- Degradation of the quality and quantity of drinking water supplies,
streams, and lakes.
Many local public and private sector organizations are
already working independently on these issues, from the development
of downtown Ithaca, to the revitalization of our villages and hamlets,
to the protection of our rural landscape. The Vital Communities Initiative
builds on these efforts by seeking to establish a more comprehensive,
coordinated, and community-wide framework for planning in Tompkins County.
The Vital Communities Initiative Principles were developed during an
18-month community-involvement process and are based on residents' visions
of future growth in Tompkins County.
Although land use regulation authority resides at the
town, village, and city levels, it is important that other entities,
such as the county, nonprofits, and private interests, also consider
land use impacts in their decisionmaking. Decisions such as where to
site a housing development, what land to protect, or where to approve
an economic development loan all have land use implications and impacts.
Planning for the future is the only way to preserve and enhance the
characteristics and attributes of Tompkins County that we most cherish,
and to ensure that our communities remain healthy, vibrant, and vital
communities. This is what these seven principles attempt to capture.
Build strong, cohesive neighborhoods and communities
Encourage the development of diverse communities that provide a
mix of uses, a variety of employment options, social and recreational
opportunities, and an assortment of amenities within walking distance
of residential development.
Enhance the quality of communities by improving the character of
the built environment, including visually appealing architectural
elements and streetscapes that encourage pedestrian travel, facilitate
community interaction, and promote public safety.
Preserve and enhance the distinct identities and historic character
of existing neighborhoods and structures, and encourage the development
of new neighborhoods that possess their own special sense of place,
through attractive design of public places; proximity to schools,
parks and other services; and community festivals and events.
Encourage nodal development patterns that build on existing infrastructure
and population centers
Strengthen and enhance the City of Ithaca's downtown area as the
urban center of the County.
Strengthen and enhance the villages and hamlets of the County as
vital service centers.
Increase the amount and density of housing, office, and retail
space in the central business districts throughout the County.
Promote greater density by encouraging development of existing
"gaps" left by abandoned buildings, vacant parcels, and
land located behind existing development along roads.
- Comprehensive plan
Promote choice and affordability in housing options
Provide for a variety of living experiences, including rural, suburban,
small villages, big villages, and urban, each with its own distinct
style and personality.
Protect consumers' housing options throughout the County by providing
a mix of choices (i.e., location, accessibility, housing types,
and neighborhood character).
Provide and maintain more quality affordable housing options for
very-low, low, and moderate income residents.
- Promote increased owner-occupied housing within neighborhoods in
Protect natural resources, green spaces, and recreational resources
Preserve and protect open space, unique natural areas, wetlands,
water and woodland resources, scenic views, areas of natural beauty,
and the rural character of Tompkins County.
Create, preserve, and enhance parks, hiking trails, active and
passive recreation facilities, and historic resources; enhance public
access to Cayuga Lake.
Provide a system of interconnecting greenways and ecological corridors
that connect- agricultural lands, natural areas, and open space.
Protect water quality and quantity in the County's streams, lakes,
and groundwater and consider the potential regional impacts on water
supply and wastewater management for all proposed developments.
Protect the areas where crucial aquifers are replenished and avoid
new development in flood-prone areas.
Promote agriculture, protect farmland, and protect the rural economy
Protect prime agricultural soils and areas of contiguous agricultural
Enhance the viability of existing farming operations and agricultural
businesses, and encourage new ones to be formed.
Encourage development that is designed to preserve open space and
valuable agricultural land.
Provide for a variety of formal and informal economic activities,
such as private timber harvesting, agri-tourism, and home businesses,
which support a rural way of life.
Enhance development of a local economy that supports strong communities
Concentrate appropriate commercial, industrial, and retail development
onto relatively small amounts of land, in close proximity to housing
and consumers, in existing areas of concentrated development (through
vertical growth, where suitable).
Support economic development that employs local workers, provides
family-supporting wages and benefits, and offers affordable goods
Provide a climate where businesses, particularly locally-owned
ones, can flourish by enhancing the County's natural resources,
arts and culture, lively urban core, and vital neighborhoods.
Recognize the important role played by local institutions of higher
education in attracting residents and creating jobs in this area
and work with them on quality of life issues in the community.
Support tourism in the area by encouraging local institutions,
businesses, and facilities to better plan, coordinate, and expand
Promote a multi-modal transportation system that encourages economic
health and community vitality
Enhance and promote the use of bicycles and walking as viable forms
of transportation by providing safe public facilities, including
multi-use trails, bicycle routes, bicycle lanes, and sidewalks.
Enhance transportation options and provide facilities that allow
passengers to transfer easily and safely from one mode of transportation
to another (e.g., biking to bus service).
Ensure that development occurs in a manner that maintains the function
and safety of the road network in the area.
Provide affordable and accessible public transportation to important
destinations among outlying nodes, the Ithaca urban area, and points
outside the County.
Enhance transportation options, including freight and air service,
to support business development, while preserving the integrity
of existing communities.
Promote a transportation system that supports nodal, compact development
patterns and reduces negative environmental impacts.