Commission Examines Redline FBC Draft

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Thursday May 01, 2014

April 22, the Planning Commission received the highly-anticipated redline draft of the Land Development Regulations, one section of which is a new way of defining how the City Center will be built: Form Based Code.

The redline version for Form Based Code is the result of feedback taken from several Planning Commission meetings relating to the code crafted by the Form Based Code Committee. It also includes recommendations from other committees and subcommittees and their consultants--i.e. Affordable Housing Subcommittee, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security Task Force, and Open Space Committee--and engagement from the public. 

The draft displays nine sections under Article 8: Purpose and Policies, Applicability and Special Standards, Uses Allowed, Review Procedures, Open Space Requirements, Noncomformities, City Center T3 and T3+ Neighborhood Building Envelope Standards (T denoting “Transect,” 3 being moderate density), Urban Multi-Use T4 Building Envelope Standards (T4, denser area), and City Center T5 Building Envelope Standards (T5 being the densest area).

What the draft code does not include yet are street typologies and the related process, the open space amenities palette (both public and private open space), as well as the open space buyout process, explained Paul Conner, the director of the Planning & Zoning department. The Planning Commission will also need to flesh out a number of areas in the draft that are newly included or need further investigation (i.e. how the UMall’s 1-story property lease will be handled).

Subsequent to this new standard, the Central Districts and Design Review Districts of the Land Development Regulations have been completely removed.
Filling in for Commission Chair Jessica Louisos, Tracey Harrington acted as chair and asked her fellow commissioners and the audience to “look at the forest, not the leaves” since the draft is neither fully complete nor a concrete form to send to the City Council. 

In its first round of tackling the redline version, the Planning Commission first jumped into talking about permitted and prohibited uses. Staff recommended that uses specifically prohibited today in the city center remain specifically prohibited for existing buildings so that they don’t “suddenly start doing the things it couldn’t yesterday,” Conner said. For new buildings anything not specifically listed as prohibited would be permitted under Form Based Code. 

Even so, if a proposed use does not meet performance standards and building form, it would make other uses, such as a slaughterhouse for instance, unsuitable for the area, even though it’s not specifically prohibited. 

Segueing into open space, commissioners continued the public versus private open space conversation and what counts as open space. Resident Frank Kochman questioned the reasoning behind a rooftop garden counting as open space in the T5, and Jennifer Kochman said that giving a developer a buyout option (not yet listed in the draft) to develop open space would diminish the intent--these are points commissioners, committees, and the public alike will have to combine heads to define.

Street trees, technical fixes for readability, and creatively using stormwater and wetlands for public use were other topics discussed. The first jab at the draft language has been made, but there is still more work to be done. 

Knowing that several moving parts comprise the draft City Center Form Based Code--some of which will be added within the coming weeks-- The Planning Commission will dissect the draft again in May. At press time, the Planning Commission announced that it would decide at the April 29 meeting (which is a Form Based Code discussion for outside city center), whether or not to meet on May 6 or wait until the regularly-scheduled May 13 meeting.

After completely reviewing the draft, the Planning Commission will release an announcement to all committees and the public regarding the entire LDR amendment document. There will be an opportunity to voice opinions now and during public hearings before a final version reaches City Council.

What will committees such as the Form Based Code Committee, which has been invested in this project for nearly two years, have to say about changes made to their fall 2013 recommendations and participation since? 

This herculean process, given its long journey, requires further discussion and differences of opinion will have to be hashed out. Tim McKenzie of South Burlington Realty (SB Realty City Center LLC is the largest landowner of the city center area) is a member of the Form Based Code Committee and attends all of the Planning Commission meetings, as does Form Based Code Committee Chair Michael Simoneau. Even with constant communication at every other Tuesday Planning Commission meeting and more, McKenzie notes that there are still points to be discussed. 

“I think they [the Planning Commission] will extend the courtesy to us of saying, ‘this is what you wrote and these are the changes we like,’ and give us the opportunity to say ‘these are the reasons why we did it the way we did’, and try to convince them of what we wrote versus what they think should be [written], then I think that final version will go onto the City Council,” McKenzie said to fellow Form Based Code Committee member Paul Engels in an April 10 CCTV interview. 

“I think it went well,” Conner said of the overall April 22 meeting. The Inclusionary Zoning overview was an important segment of the evening, and the Form Based Code draft discussion was a more general overview, one which will develop much deeper discussion as the review process continues.

The full redline draft Land Development Regulations can be found online on the city website under the Planning and Zoning Department Planning Commission agenda and meeting packets, and there will be hard copies printed and available at City Hall.


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent