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Canandaigua’s strategic plan: Housing, poverty, and stormwater management ID’d as biggest issues for city (video)

  • / Updated:
  • Josh Durso 

Strategic planning is essential for any community. The City of Canandaigua is viewed as one of the most-vibrant communities in the Finger Lakes. But, officials there say they have issues that need resolving. Among them — housing affordability, the rise of poverty in neighborhoods around the city, ailing infrastructure made worse by historic flooding last summer, and the need for continued economic development. 

That’s where the City’s 2024 Strategic Plan enters the equation. It was unveiled last week at City Council’s regular April meeting. It was the result of a day-long work session by council members, who collaborated in identifying the biggest needs. While the draft plan was tabled for additional consideration and possible modifications — it points to a new City Council who isn’t resting with the perception of success. 

“We have an incredibly vibrant downtown and community,” Mayor Bob Palumbo told in an interview this week. “That perception is part of what we’ve had a hard time with in the past,” he continued, noting that despite seven complete rounds of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative — Canandaigua remains the largest community in the Finger Lakes not to receive the $10 million grant. “Drive down Main Street and everything looks rosy — it’s very busy, it’s vibrant. The lakefront and tourism is very good, but you know, get a block or two off Main Street and that’s a different story.”

One of the biggest drivers of this is the lack of affordable housing. While there are some prospects on the horizon, the draft plan identifies changes to the city’s zoning map as one option to help foster development. Additionally, expanding allowable uses in downtown. Mayor Palumbo admits there’s a lot of reason for people to choose to live in Canandaigua — great schools, access to quality healthcare, and great public safety services like fire and police. However, without growing the tax base, maintaining those services could become a challenge. 

That challenge is identified in the draft plan as one weakness that the City will have to overcome. It also identifies stalled or vacant developments, infrastructure, community engagement, housing age, and again, poverty, as ‘weaknesses’. The plan also notes that regional competition, talent acquisition, affordable housing, and financial constraints are ‘threats’ to the city as leaders look ahead.

“Several council members — myself included — see affordable, workforce housing as a big opportunity. The Governor has identified that as a major initiative at the state level, so when we start to look at our next [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] application, we’ll have to be mindful of that.” In many ways, the strategic planning process for a city like Canandaigua is a way of showing state leaders they are ready for grant awards. 

For many communities across the region — like the Village of Newark — long-term planning has been touted as a major reason for their often state-aided projects. Newark has also a recent winner of the DRI, which officials remain optimistic about. Having tight financial margins in a busy community like Canandaigua comes with challenges. “We have a lot of issues with housing, families that are living at the border of, or below the poverty line. I think that’s one thing that in our strategy of working with our local representatives — that we’re not all driving Ferraris and Porsches.”

Housing and affordability aren’t the only issues City Council wants to take on through this strategic plan. In fact, the overall #1 issue identified in the plan involves stormwater management, which was a massive storyline throughout 2023. Last summer when intense flooding happened in the city thanks to historic storms — residents and council members spoke out. They knew that major infrastructure issues like stormwater management couldn’t be solved overnight, but significant steps have been taken in the last nine months. 

However, the draft plan points to the challenge staring down City Council and taxpayers in the City: While enhancing infrastructure to protect homes and residents against heavy rains is a priority — tolerance for tax increases, poverty, and fiscal constraints will make it challenging.

“Obviously that storm last summer — we called it a 500, or 1,000 year storm — brought a lot of issues to light,” the mayor added. “But as a city we feel a lot better now with the work that’s been done since.” Now, he says, the focus will turn to enhancing water retention and working with the town to ensure the city’s infrastructure is not overwhelmed in the future.

Key factors for how success would be measured in the draft plan include maintaining a healthy lake, a thriving downtown, and maintaining an affordable, safe community. 

Click here to check out the strategic plan as presented at last week’s meeting (pg. 60)