City CenterTakes Shape with Form Based Code

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Thursday December 12, 2013

It may only take two to tango, but it takes a community to create the city center it desires. 

Three public input meetings, two on Thursday, Dec. 5 and one on Saturday Dec. 7, gave South Burlington residents a comprehensive scope of the draft Form Based Code work for city center completed by the Form Based Code Committee.

Form Based Code is the new zoning regulatory process that will be implemented for city center only. The rest of the city will continue under the current Land Development Regulations. 

As citizens milled into City Hall, Central School, and the library where these events were hosted, they had time before the community session to view the map of the proposed city center, read about the different building envelope standards, and review other resources.

After giving residents time to view the information, the Planning Commission and Planning and Zoning staff called the crowd  together for a run-through of Form Based Code as presented by the city’s hired consultant, Paul Dreher of Dreher Designs.

 Form Based Code focuses on the form of buildings in the public realm, Dreher explained. Unlike traditional zoning which has designated zones with specific uses, Form Based Code in city center hones in on the appearance a city desires and allows for multiple uses.

Therefore, rather than the traditional zones, Form Based Code is predicated on the use of Transects (or T-zones), Dreher explained. Transects represent different degrees of development, T1 being rural to T5 being dense, urban development. Fellow consultant Jennifer Black pulled up a projection of the multicolored map of the draft city center representing each transect, with the exception of T2.

Approximately 75 percent of City Center will be residential, Paul Engels, FBC Committee member added at the Thursday gathering. Tim McKenzie, a FBC Committee member and SB Realty representative, provided reasoning behind the high percentage. After reviewing modeling-in terms of parking standards for commercial use- parking lot areas were a glaring concern.

“We saw a sea of parking...and that’s not the image that anybody wanted,” he said. “Residential units consume less parking and their lots can often park cars, and it was really to give it the urban-feel.”

Dreher proceeded to outline the street typologies and building envelope standards which include specificities such as building height and distances between buildings. Building envelope standards also dictate allowable street types. 

Throughout the presentation, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner mentioned which “tools in the toolbox” were available to the city in developing how South Burlington will grow. The official map, the one cent Open Space fund, and the TIF District funds are just a few of the tools available. 

When the overview concluded, the Planning Commission opened up the floor for comments. Questions varied in topic and complexity including funding, building standards, civic building infrastructure, the idea of a city green, and several others.

As previously mentioned, Form Based Code will only be implemented for the proposed city center, but the recommendation from the Form Based Code Committee is to gradually expand this citywide. What does this mean for South Burlington, and how will it be done?

“If we expand this to the entire city, then the transect zones within those neighborhoods would sort of replicate the DNA of those existing neighborhoods, so it wouldn’t be a radical shift of what’s already in existence,” Commissioner Tracey Harrington explained.

Another point of interest was the idea of a city green. Several community members who participated in previous community visioning weeks expressed the need for this. Citizens, including Councilor Helen Riehle, noted that it was omitted on the map.

Engels explained that the FBC Committee’s map does not designate specific parks or green space. While the committee is charged with the building envelope standards, transects, and streetscapes, the map in this draft form is conceptual. The draft code does not prohibit the green space, but it just cannot specify where it might be located, since some of the land is privately-owned.
The zoning map may not be the tool to use for this open space request, Conner said. That doesn’t mean there isn’t another potential tool that can be used. Conner suggested that a number of maps could be overlaid.

Engels added that property values in the area range from $1.2 to $1.5 million per acre. The citizens will have to have a serious discussion about what it wants, and how much it is willing to pay.

Related to open space, another resident suggested the city purchase land by Dumont Park to increase the green.

The Form Based Code discussion is far from over. What do you want to see for South Burlington’s city center? The Planning Commission still welcomes your feedback. To review the draft code and other resources, visit Send your written remarks via e-mail at or send a letter to the commission at City Hall, 575 Dorset St. South Burlington.