Commissioners Revise Purpose on IZ Front: Structuring Interim Zoning’s Role and Deciphering Form Based Code

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Thursday February 14, 2013

After a joint meeting with the City Council, the Planning Commission is refining its focus.

It’s been nearly a year since City Council voted 3-2 in favor of Interim Zoning. Now, after months of planning, researching, consulting, spending, and questioning, governing bodies such as the Planning Commission are trying to control the flow of information to make it more effective for City management and easier for public understanding.

Until recently, the Planning Commission’s role in Interim Zoning was to amend existing regulations to be in concert with how the new, sustainable city will look. Eight amendments made it through to a Planning Commission public hearing and have been reviewed by the City Council. Council has warned a second reading for these amendments for the first Council public hearing set for Monday, March 18.

Other amendments were met with resistance and questioning from developers, IZ committee members and residents. The suggestion has been made  that this is something committees could handle instead, given that they are comprised of diverse professional perspectives as well as consultants. Council Chair Rosanne Greco said recently that it would be best to “take a time-out,” and employ a new course of action.

Thus, when commissioners reconvened for their January 29 meeting, they decided to redirect their focus on the work of the IZ Committees--Sustainable Agriculture/ Food Security Task Force, Affordable Housing and Open Space. Moreover, commissioners will review in-progress work on behalf of the Form Based Code Committee. Commissioners will then ensure the entities have developed a strong synergy.

Recognizing that this revised plan could still result in a surge of information, Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner recommended rotating the balance of reporting being shared between IZ committees and Form Based Code. For example, this meeting consisted of a smaller update on IZ committee work and a larger update on Form Based Code.

All eyes were directed toward  a “messy” map of what South Burlington City Center could potentially look like under Form Based Code. Given the locale, the initial draft of Building Envelope Standards addressed the two highest Transect Zones yielding the most urban development: Transect Zone 5 (T5) and Transect Zone 4(T4). Conner explained that the Transect (T) Zones are levels of differing habitats, or a change in the city’s environment (i.e. urban center, sub-urban, rural). T5 is considered an Urban Center Zone and T4 is a General Urban Zone.

According to Form Based Code consultant Paul Dreher of Dreher Design, T5 is emphasized on a main street with high-foot-traffic pedestrianism. “The purpose of this form is to create street oriented public realm that encourages a dense downtown, multi-use/multipurpose built environment. Overall, parking (not including on-street parking) shall be away (or hidden) from the street.”

T4 mirrors creating a street oriented public realm with parking out of the way, but is focused on roads off of main streets with looser standards.

“The biggest difference [between the T zones] is that in a traditional Form Based Code a T5 would require that the ground floor have retail or restaurants on it, whereas a T4 could include a retail shop or it could be a 2-3-4 story residential building,” Conner said.

If you are feeling unfamiliar with Form Based Code entirely, don’t be discouraged. The majority of South Burlington is new to Form Based Code, and the City has hosted Community Visioning meetings  this week (February 12-16) to help make this jargon and planning more transparent for citizens. Missed Monday-Wednesday?  The Form Based Code Committee has a meeting Thursday, February 14, at 12:00; and on Saturday, February 16, there is a Place and Street Audits meeting as a recap of the week’s work, followed by a walking audit.

As Commissioner Harrington put it, Form Based Code “does whatever we tell it to.” Commission Chair Jessica Louisos would like small farms and orchards that families can pick from near their homes. Greco would like a “city green.” What do you want?


SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold