As a follow up to its August 2022 ReZone Letter, SOFSA worked closely with Food Access Healthy Neighborhoods Now (FAHNN) to elevate specific concerns within the draft zoning ordinance that could potentially harm potential food retail locations including the parcel at Valley Plaza.

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November 28, 2022

Dear Members of the Syracuse Common Council and representatives from City Zoning/Planning,

We write to you as members of Food Access Healthy Neighborhoods Now (FAHNN) and the Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance (SOFSA) requesting action to amend the draft ReZone ordinance to enhance food access in the city of Syracuse. 

Together, our organizations include over 350 community members dedicated to enhancing food access and advancing health equity in our community. In addition, through our grassroots organizing efforts, we aim to represent the interests not only of our members – but of every individual who eats, grows, or loves food within Syracuse and Onondaga County. FAHNN is a coalition of residents of the Valley, Southside, and adjacent neighborhoods working together to bring fresh food access to an underserved community. The organization’s mission is to increase access to healthy food by mobilizing our neighborhood resources, residents, existing business owners, and other community stakeholders.  FAHNN is currently advocating to bring a full-service grocery store back to the Valley Plaza at 4141 South Salina Street to occupy the 44,000 sq. ft. space that has been vacant since 2018. A partner and supporter of FAHNN’s efforts, SOFSA is a network of food system stakeholders and a catalyst for change. SOFSA works to strengthen the regional food system so that it works for all people in Syracuse, Onondaga County, and Onondaga Nation. SOFSA brings communities together to foster relationships, develop projects, align resources, and advocate for policies to improve the health of our neighbors and our environment. 

Although the Valley Plaza lacks a grocery store, it is located in the heart of a vibrant neighborhood surrounded by diverse communities including the North and South Valley, Strathmore, Elmwood, South Avenue Corridor, Sankofa, and McKinley neighborhoods. It is within walking distance from a large senior citizen complex, veterans’ housing, and many schools and churches. Additionally, the plaza is near Onondaga Community College, Nob Hill Apartments, and the Onondaga Nation. It is centrally located within the largest USDA-designated low income/low food access area within the City of Syracuse (see map). 

Over the last 40 years, two different grocery chains have served as supermarket anchors for the plaza, first P&C beginning in the 1980s and later Tops. In 2018, Tops closed this location as part of its bankruptcy restructuring and the location has remained vacant since that time.  At present, FAHNN is working to assure the tenancy of a full-service grocery store in Valley Plaza. 

Currently, the Valley Plaza is zoned as a Local Business District, Class A. It has come to our attention under the 2019 ReZone Syracuse plan, the Valley Plaza would be zoned as CM, a Commercial District. According to the final draft of the 2019 Syracuse Zoning Ordinance:

“The CM district is established to provide appropriate areas that permit the development and continued use of land for commercial and service uses characterized by frequent visits of customers and clients in high volumes. These areas generally include commercial uses that attract customers from a wider region” (p. 26).

As currently written, following this designation, the Valley Plaza parcel would be available for uses including, but not limited to: automobile sales, car wash, contractor yard, mini-storage, and warehouse. Such uses of this vibrant corridor along South Salina would close opportunities for reinvestment, reduce daily utilization by neighborhood residents, and turn the plaza into what some have termed a “parasitic dead zone”. In the past year a serious purchase offer for the plaza proposed turning the grocery store space into mini-storage which would preclude a future grocery store and diminish services to the neighborhood. These conversions of large spaces in challenged shopping centers are happening nationwide and are part of a current national speculative real estate wave.

For the first time this year, FAHNN ran an outdoor farmers market at Valley Plaza with the support and participation of Brady Farm and SOFSA and a start-up grant from the Gifford Foundation. This market was held on four Sundays from July-October and was so successful that the Brady Farm added dates. However, ReZone would disallow both a farmers market and a produce stand under temporary uses in the CM zone category. FAHNN’s market worked well to support residents and plaza businesses. These two uses should be permitted uses in Valley Plaza and all zones within the City of Syracuse.

As a coalition of stakeholders dedicated to building a resilient and equitable food system in Syracuse and across Onondaga County, we implore the Common Council to request the following amendments to the draft zoning ordinances before you:

  1. We request that Special Use Permits be required for uses that are misaligned with the intent of Commercial zones – i.e. “frequent visits of customers and clients in high volumes” – including but not limited to contractor yard, mini-storage, and warehouse uses. In addition to benefiting the community surrounding the Valley Plaza, such a measure would benefit neighbors of Commercial zones throughout the city. The Special Use Permit process will allow for residents to comment on uses that may detract from the nearby neighborhood and reduce the opportunity for vital retail services.
  2. Likewise, we request both farmers markets and produce stands be allowed as Temporary Uses of Commercial and Industrial zones to enable the continuation of the Valley Plaza farmstand and others like it throughout the city.

We, the undersigned, speak with one voice to request swift action on these concerning aspects of the proposed ReZone plan that may inadvertently impede the provision of food to low income/low access and disadvantaged neighborhoods in exchange for opportunities for national speculative commercial schemes that will further impoverish and degrade these historically underinvested neighborhoods.


Food Access Healthy Neighborhoods Now – Board of Directors*

Rhonda Vesey (Valley)
Audrey Haskell (Southside)
Vice Chair
Kathy Stribley (Valley)
Leslei Green (Southside)
Kathy Downing (Valley)
FAHNN Board Member 
Rannette Releford (Valley)
FAHNN Board Member
Paula Worrell (Valley)
FAHNN Board Member
Trudy Eudell (Valley)
FAHNN Board Member
Will Wagner (Southside)
FAHNN Board Member

Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance – Advisory Board*

Julia Carboni
Syracuse University
Citizenship & Civic Engagement
Estelí Jiménez-Soto (Eastside)
Syracuse University
Food Studies – Agroecology
Jonnell Robinson (Eastside)
Syracuse University
Community Geography
Brandy Colebrook (Southside)
NY Agricultural Land Trust
Jessi Lyons (Valley)
Brady Farm
Rachel Murphy Viens
Syracuse City School District
Food & Nutrition Services
Jeremy DeChario (Eastside)
Syracuse Cooperative Market
Emilija Postolovska (Lakefront)
M.S. Hall & Associates
Curtis Waterman
Onondaga Nation Farm
David Knapp
Onondaga County Legislature &
Onondaga Agricultural Council
Peter Ricardo
Food Bank of Central New York
Caitlin Toomey, M.D.
Upstate Primary Care
Christina Hudson Kohler
Hudson Egg Farms

Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance – Staff & Community Leadership*

Maura Ackerman (Eastside)
Avalon Gupta VerWiebe (Eastside)
Equity, Inclusion, & Engagement Coordinator
Rhonda Vesey (Valley)
Community Liaison
Manika Gautam (Northside)
Community Liaison
Brittany Taylor (Eastside)
Senior Community Liaison
Mable Wilson (Southside)
Community Liaison