Commission Holds Panel Discussion on City Center Development and Economics

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Thursday April 03, 2014

In order to broaden their knowledge about the economics and development of City Center and Form Based Code, the seven-person commission arranged a panel discussion on March 25 with real estate and development professionals. The panel offered insight about the city’s future downtown, finance, and development with an independent perspective; the panelists were not required to know the intricacies of Form Based Code, and none of them have a stake in City Center development.

The panel included Andy Burnes, president of HallKeen, a real estate management and development company based in Norwood, Mass. HallKeen was the designated housing developer for the Winooski downtown project in 2004, and has experience working with affordable housing and mixed income housing, and using urban development housing tools.

Also on the panel was Jed Dousevicz, the principal of Vermont Commercial Real Estate. The company is located in Burlington, Vt. and offers services such as landlord representation, corporate representation, tenant representation, commercial and investment real estate sales, and business brokerage.

Larry Williams, principal of Redstone, a local real estate development, brokerage and management company, completed the panel.  Redstone also has experience with Winooski downtown development.

The dialogue began with the topic of Form Based Code. Williams suggested  that in order for development to be successful, the code should be flexible and building envelope standards should not be too stringent. 

Burnes added that the market will largely dictate what works/does not work and provided several examples of Winooski’s downtown development process (of which Williams and Burnes’ companies are affiliated) for context.

Panelists additionally provided insight about big and small retail design, and offered opinions about design recommendations other than the current draft FBC requirement to designate bottom floor  for retail and top floor for residential. 

Dousevicz suggested adding standalone, congregate-style structures with a dedicated entrance and parking nearby, that give tenants a sense of ownership. Forcing the retail/residential mix could make vacancies hard to fill, he said. On the other hand, having quaint stores, residential areas and large retailers within the same area (not building) could work, Dousevicz said.

”Just because you have a big retailer does not mean you’re not going to have that same [desired] feel.”

The panel and commission also discussed building envelope standards such as height limits. Williams said having strict height limits could hinder the execution of a good design, but resident Frank Kochman said the limit is needed given the number of height waivers granted with current zoning. Resident Sarah Dopp commented that the sensitivity to height is also attributed to the need to “fit in” with the rest of the city.

Also discussed were the need to communicate with landowners, affordable housing (costs and processes), inclusionary zoning, building material costs, and structured parking/parking garages (layout and economics).

 If density and constant activity are the vision for City Center, South Burlington will have to be realistic about parking, the panelists said. 

Structured parking like a parking garage could work well for employees, but for shoppers, having the surface parking and line-of-sight will draw people into the city, Dousevicz said. The challenge then would be to not overdo it with vast parking lots. 

Conversely, Williams said that making City Center more compact will determine the feel of the area and that having a compact space is difficult without structured parking. Developers often have issues funding the garages, which is where the TIF could be useful.

Talk of large retailers brought Kochman to his feet. 

“The tone should be set by the city,” Kochman said, referring to development like civic institutions and open spaces.

“[Investing in civic infrastructure] is priming the pump. You create a center where people want to come and tentatively retail, commercial, and everything else will follow.”

Rosanne Greco echoed that South Burlington must not lose its sense of place among retail.  

Burnes agreed and pointed to the Winooski Riverwalk and downtown as an area that was “able to control their destiny.” 

Essentially, the destiny of South Burlington is in the hands of how well it communicates with the landowners, since they will be the determinants of how the center evolves.

The Planning Commission will take the panelists’ input into account, and commissioners anticipate having completed draft Form Based Code language for April 22. The complete panel discussion is viewable on

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent