City Council Rejects Interim Zoning

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Thursday August 04, 2011

South Burlington’s City Council rejected a proposed development slowdown on July 28, lifting building restrictions that have been in place for over a month. Councilor Jim Knapp, a long-time critic to the slowdown, was joined by pro-slowdown councilors Rosanne Greco and Paul Engels in a 3-2 vote striking down the resolution. 

Discussions about a development slowdown, which would have passed under so-called interim zoning bylaws, began in May. South Burlington’s City Council drafted a resolution to adopt interim zoning in response to higher-than-expected growth rates, concern over the preservation of open space, and frustration with building waivers.

Around forty-five residents attended Thursday night’s meeting, at which the Council sought to vote on a resolution to adopt interim zoning, first proposed at a June 6 City Council meeting, and later revised on June 20.

Calling the revised resolution “premature,” Knapp opened Thursday’s deliberations by presenting an alternative. Stressing that it was an early draft, he walked the Council through a proposal that would not allow interim zoning to begin without further planning for studies that the city, by law, must conduct while the zoning is in effect. He also sought preliminary work on how the city would fund those studies.

“It’s a complete change in concept,” Knapp said, although he was clear that his draft resolution was not up for a vote and had yet to be reviewed by City Attorney Steve Stitzel. Stitzel also explained that the resolution could not be voted on without warning a public hearing.

In an unusual series of events, the Council next considered a motion by Engels, seconded by Greco, to hold a public hearing on Knapp’s proposal. Knapp weighed in amid confusion over what this would mean for City staff, who were at the time bound to follow the June 20 resolution until the Council voted: “If I had a choice, I would strike everything and start over.”

When Engels then attempted to withdraw his motion, Greco declined to withdraw her second and forced a vote, in which she was the lone voice in favor.

Knapp then made a motion that the Council withdraw the June 20 interim zoning resolution for which the meeting was originally called. The motion failed to pass, with Greco and Council chair Sandra Dooley opposed, Knapp and Engels in support, and an abstention from councilor Meaghan Emery.

With interim zoning still de facto in effect, Emery voiced concern over the Council’s progress. “I have strong convictions but profound misgivings on this council’s ability to reach a decision,” she said. Nonetheless, she followed with a motion to pass the interim zoning resolution and a handful of amendments including a time limit of one year, with the possibility of extension.

Knapp was quick to respond, citing expenses potentially in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and other available avenues to redress growth concerns. “It’s still premature. We still don’t know what studies we’re doing,” he told the council. “The Planning Commission can do this job. Let’s let them finish.”

In the final vote, councilors Greco and Engels voted with Knapp against adopting interim zoning as proposed. Emery and Dooley voted in support of the resolution.

With the motion’s failure, interim zoning was ultimately rendered null. South Burlington’s Department of Planning and Zoning will return to business-as-usual standards under the Land Development Regulations.

SOURCE: Eric Blokland, Correspondent