Commission Closes in on Update to Development Regs

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Thursday September 22, 2011

After months of deliberations, South Burlington’s Planning Commission on September 13 took a decisive step toward updating the city’s building laws. Twelve draft amendments to the Land Development Regulations—most of them previously work shopped by the Commission—were reviewed, scrutinized, and returned to Planning and Zoning staff, which will revise the amendments before submitting them to the City Attorney.

The proposed amendments range from aligning conditional use standards with state law to requiring digital application submissions for development review. Among the draft amendments—still subject to a public hearing and a City Council vote before adoption—is a revision to building height regulations within the city, a topic that garnered controversy during the city’s debate over interim zoning earlier this summer.

The amendment hones definitions for building heights and stories, and eliminates height waivers and reduces the allowable height in certain residential neighborhoods. Commissioners, who developed the standards during previous meetings, approved the amendment’s language despite some concern over the impact it will have on the city’s Planning and Zoning staff.

“We’re a little worried about what this is going to do, administratively,” said Paul Conner, director of Planning and Zoning. Among the changes in the amendment is a provision requiring that new homes and renovations to existing homes rise to no more than one story above homes in abutting lots. Conner said that although Planning and Zoning staff support the amendment, it would require applicants to submit information on abutting properties, placing an increased workload on staff as they educated developers and home-owners on the new application requirements.

“We don’t currently require any information about adjacent properties” for single family home permits, said Conner. The city receives 25–50 new housing permits a year for single family homes, and “a handful” of applications to add new stories to existing homes. Most new construction within the city goes through a small pool of developers, said Conner. Planning and Zoning lost a full-time staff position to city-wide austerity measures last year. 

Commissioners also approved a Transit Overlay District, unveiled by Conner as a tool to synchronize certain types of development with public transportation. The Commission has spent much of the spring and summer analyzing the relationship between bus routes in South Burlington and the types of businesses and facilities that rely upon or heavily use bus service, such as hotels, medical offices, and social services.

The Transit Overlay District would cluster those types of land-use within a quarter-mile of bus routes. The district “initially would just have some restrictions,” said Conner, but lays the groundwork for future changes such as revised parking requirements or shared-use roadways under the Complete Streets framework.

Full text of the draft amendments is available at http://www.sburl.com.

SOURCE: Eric Blokland, Correspondent