Tompkins Weekly

What’s at stake: Caroline considers zoning

I have lived in a 150-year-old historic home in Caroline for 40 years. As residents, we are collectively in awe of the town’s open spaces, clean water and air, lush environment and rich soil, and spectacular views. In 2022, our community is at a crossroads.

The Democratic View by Renate Ferro

The town of Caroline is considering zoning ordinances that include the small hamlets of Slaterville Springs, Brooktondale and Speedsville. Zoning divides town land into areas that define rural and hamlet districts whose purpose is to promote and foster growth and development but simultaneously foster orderly growth in rural areas and conserve and protect open land and natural resources.

What is at stake? The town of Caroline has some of the richest soil, most tenable water resources and spectacular views. We are flanked by the rich forests of the Shindagin Hollow State Forest and the Hammond Hill Forest. The town also has rich natural water resources falling within two major watersheds. These resources allow for precious habitat areas to flourish.

If we want to be shepherds of the land for generations to come, we must acknowledge that the time has come to protect ourselves from large corporate business development and unwieldy expansion that does not support the town’s rural character and resources. Water availability and purity, air quality, wildlife protection and land preservation — including that of our agricultural legacy — needs protection through thoughtful governance and zoning.

What can we do? We can be informed of the facts. Recently, social media has spawned misinformation about the Caroline zoning process. Here are a few facts. In 2006, a group of residents appointed by the Town Board formed a Planning Board, which penned the first Comprehensive Plan. A revision of this plan was adopted in 2020 by the recent Town Board.

Its mission “is to identify a clear and compelling vision for the future and to develop strategies to reach that vision.” The plan suggests potential goals and actions for the future including zoning, economic impact, formula business restrictions and design guidelines. Important in the plan is not only the nurturance of the positive character and livability of the town but also the investment in environmental protection and rich natural resources.

The slow and meticulous process of considering and implementing potential zoning ordinances takes time. The Town Board appointed a Task Force for Land Use and Economic Development comprised of residents and landowners. The research and recommendations of that volunteer group led to the Feb. 10, 2021, resolution by the Caroline Town Board to establish a Zoning Commission, in accordance with state guidelines, that will “investigate and research zoning, make recommendations to the Board and then disband upon the submission of their final report.”

That investigation and research phase is where zoning lies today in the town.

Through these many years, all residents in the town have had a right to participate in town governance not only through voting but also through the public reflections on the Comprehensive Plan, the Task Force and the Zoning Commission.

While residents could have become a member of any of these groups through application, residents have been given the opportunity for additional input through public meetings, town newsletters, town questionnaires, privilege of the floor and town drop boxes.

Since the recent pandemic, state law has limited in-person town meetings, but Zoom has allowed not only for virtual participation but also for video recordings of all meetings that are readily accessible online. Announcements of future meetings, agendas and previous questions are available on the zoning website as well.

In the town of Caroline, I have often heard town residents declare at meetings, “A man can do what a man wants to do with his own property.” What’s at stake? While independent rights are important, we must acknowledge that we live in a community.

All citizens have the right to live among the lush natural resources and beauty that the town is defined by, but there are hazards that may be lurking in unruly development, commercial sprawl and environmental pollution. The town’s most recent version of the Comprehensive Plan made a commitment to “the value and necessity for a diverse rural population” where all residents “felt safe, welcome and valued.”

I extend my sincere thanks to our former longtime Town Board members Molly Adams, Phoebe Boynton, Don Barber, Ed Cope, Nellie Farnham, Dominic Frongillo and others who set in motion the protective custody and adoption of the first Comprehensive Plan in its early days. These visionaries set the pace for today’s possibilities.

My thanks to the meticulous work of the current Town Zoning Commission and to their patient and accessible research that is informing the draft-in-progress of our first zoning law. In the wake of misinformation, I implore all town residents to educate themselves on facts that have been presented and respect the investigation and research process that will unfold.

In the first Town Zoning Commission meetings I attended, a consultant reminded the group that zoning ordinances reflect the character of the area. Anyone interested in learning more about the zoning in Caroline should visit

Renate Ferro has lived in the town of Caroline since 1982. She served as the chair of the Caroline Democratic Committee for 17 years. She has been a Tompkins County Democratic Committee (TCDC) member since 1995. She is the former vice chair of the TCDC and current director of TCDC communications. She is an artist who has used the upstate New York landscape to inspire artistic creation for most of her adult life.

11 responses to “What’s at stake: Caroline considers zoning”

  1. Holly Magee says:

    1) what are some examples of the misinformation on Facebook? You all keep saying there is misinformation on fb but none of you have said what that misinformation is. So please enlighten us?

    2) Residents did not want to apply to the groups because the residents here don’t want zoning! Oh… you forgot to mention in this entire article that the entire town is furious about this!

    3) shepherds of the land? Nope you have no idea clearly you are the one that needs an education! And if you want to address Hannah you can email her just like your husband is making the residents of this town do! Contact us at and we will be sure to ignore your email like the board is with ours.

    4) we are educated lady! So don’t treat us as if we are stupid! Maybe you should educate yourself on proper educate towards others.

    5) and lastly don’t thank people for helping with this because some of those same people are also infuriated due to the fact that they did not know the comprehensive plan would turn into zoning!


  2. Anthony D Tavelli says:

    No mention in the piece that when they drafted the comprehensive plan or when then up dated it that there was no mention or notification that the comprehensive plan was being built for a base to zoning. A necessary document for zoning.
    I asked multiple times what is the strength of the comprehensive plan? Is it a law? No! Just a wish list.
    If they had been truthful as to the intention of it and need of it. It would been burnt before it was completed. Instead we listened,contributed to it as we were asked to. Now our involvement and honest discussion will be used to take from us property rights by those who don’t pay to hold our lands open so they may “look” at periodically.

  3. Anna Coster says:

    Dear Ms. Farro,

    I am writing to ask that you please be respectful toward the residents of Caroline. We are your fellow human beings.

    Your statement regarding what you have heard town residents say at meetings is a dog whistle. I am sure that in the past 15-40 years Caroline residents have said quite a bit more than the your stereotypical comment of “A man can do what a man wants to do with his own property” and it is disingenuous to say otherwise.

    Caroline residents are diverse, love where we live, and are amazing stewards of the land. Caroline residents understand the richness of the Town’s geography, but what makes the Town is the kindliness we have for each other.

    Your opinion piece is just that, an opinion. An opinion likey swayed by the fact that a member of your family is also a member of the Zoning Commission. While likey that you are privy to information about the Zoning Process that few other residents are, your piece is quite devoid of context.

    The proposed zoning (draft) is thoroughly out-dated, and appears to be framed by fears held by only a portion of Caroline residents.

    We need a town parade, not zoning.

    Seriously Town of Caroline govt, what have you done for me lately?


    • Anna Coster says:

      Please accept my apologies for the misspelling of Ms. Ferro’s name. Given that I am asking Ms. Ferro to be respectful, I feel it appropriate to extend the same to her.

  4. Personally, I find this piece written by Renate to be one of the most divisive, disingenuous, elitist articles that I have read in recent memory. She opens by highlighting her 40ish years of residency, thereby giving herself permission to sanctify her perspectives of the benefits of the zoning initiative. Many Caroline families are multi-generational, going back to the 1800’s. These families have been contributing to the “richness” of Renate’s community for more than 200 years; working the land, starting and growing businesses, paying taxes, and otherwise supporting the “health and well-being” of the Carolne community. My direct descendants settled here in 1864. They may be best remembered as the stewards of the Quick Cemetery for 156 years. Speaking for my family and their community contemporaries, it was their hard work, dedication, and perseverance that helped make Caroline the community that we cherish today.
    In Renate’s relating to the zoning initiative, she mentions a preponderance of “misinformation”, but fails to clarify what that is. She also fails to mention that her husband is a town board member, was a liaison to the task force, and is a liaison to the zoning commission. Renate asserts unruly development, commercial sprawl, and environmental pollution as an inevitability absent zoning. Really? A corporate giant is going to come to a town of 2900 people, that in reality is growing by a smaller percentage then what is being purported by the town supervisor?
    Most importantly, today there are residents of our town who are torn between putting gas in their car, food on the table, or paying their utility bill. We face surging inflation, a danger of war, domestic violence and terrorism in our cities. In light of these alarming events, the zoning commission should not be required to bring a “law” to the town board, but rather a recommendation to table this matter until such time that the community as a “whole” can engage the issues meaningfully. This is NOT the time for zoning in the town of Caroline. Thank you for reading.

  5. Nick says:

    Research UN Agenda 21/2030. Your town board sounds like they are either useful idiots or they have been hijacked to push something on the people that the people don’t want.

  6. Jason Evans says:

    I echo Raymond Charles Quick’s statement. Succinct and well said.

    Furthermore, what drew me to comment is that I’m perplexed by this push throughout Tompkins County to further prevent development- whether it be moratoriums in Lansing, longstanding delays in developments in Varna, stifling short term rentals in the Town of Ithaca, or similar zoning proposals in Danby.

    By pointing this out I don’t mean to take away from the specific issues regarding Caroline, but Tompkins County I believe is a bright spot in upstate New York anchored in part by the strength of our colleges. But we live in one of the most highly regulated and taxed states and frankly, it’s killing our communities. We desperately need more housing. We need to attract a greater number of businesses. We need relief from oppressively high property taxes. Unfortunately it seems our local politicians, almost unanimously Democratic, have only one answer: No.

  7. JEQ says:

    Nice comments RCQ,
    Very strange to me (as an outsider) but knowing more apparently than a 40 year resident living in a home likely my great grandfather crafted……
    It takes a special kind of person who would blindly enjoy the sanctity of the land and sleep under the blanket of the very freedom my ancestors help provided, and then question the way in which it was provided. Hard working families, Entrepreneurs and Innovators that saw things not as they are but as they could be.
    We’d all prefer you said thank you and went on your way, otherwise provide real growth and development solutions people of Caroline require, and a parade 🙂

  8. Andre says:

    I applaud the work that has gone into creating practical and protective zoning for Caroline and appreciate the efforts of Ms. Ferro and others in navigating these tricky waters. Feedback from the community will be helpful and instrumental in moving beyond the rough early draft submitted and creating something that benefits the entire community. Thank you, as well, for putting together a comprehensive FAQ in the latest Town of Caroline newsletter that corrected a lot of the misinformation being spread on social media.

    • Holly Magee says:

      There was no misinformation spread on social media! If you know of such misinformation what are your examples? Furthermore the Q&A was all biased by the zoning commission and town board so basically molding the answers to what they want you to think. Zoning is not “harmony” it’s not good for my “health and well-being” – that just what they want you to think because it’s more for their own personal gain! It won’t benefit the residents here – only the Landon road cult! No Zoning wanted, no zoning needed!

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