Council Prepares to Execute Interim-Zoning

Home » City » Council Prepares to Execute Interim-Zoning

Thursday April 12, 2012

Interim-zoning—a bylaw in which city development would be on a two-year hold until the vision of South Burlington’s community is compromised between residents, developers and everyone in between—has been the hot topic for almost a year.

While sustainable agriculture and affordable housing are two primary incentives for creating this bylaw, IZ has been met with waves of approval from residents who value conservation and maintaining the Vermont appeal, to a wave of opposition from developers who warn that it could result in job loss, decreased tax revenue, and increased legal fees. In short, while Councilor Paul Engels stated that this procedure should be carried out “as quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively as possible,” the controversial topic has created a sense that planning and procedures are anything but simple and cheap.

The five-person City Council discussed on March 26th what would be cost-effective and necessary to go through with interim-zoning studies for the economic analysis of the project. City Manager Sandy Miller said that the studies would be fairly expensive (approximately $30–50,000 each) without reliance on staff support, and that if they were to vie for lesser expensive studies, they would need staff to collect and analyze data, and be knowledgeable about where to extract this information.

“It looks to me like 4 committees and possibly seven or eight studies,” he said. “We don’t get to control the amount of money we get to spend on these things...and there’s nothing simple about the economic analysis.”

In light of this, Vice Chair Helen Riehle said that “dollars are short” and that they would need to prioritize the studies. For example, figures on affordable housing could be estimated based on statewide studies.

Council members also expressed interest in having a Steering Committee to budget the economic analysis portion. Greco agreed with Riehle that the Affordable Housing Committee would not require heavy spending.  With professional assistance from the law school, UVM expertise, and interns working at no pay for the agricultural sector, the Sustainable Agriculture Committee should not be a financial worry, she said.

Adding a penny to the property tax rate for the 2013 budget was also a revived idea.

If this were done when it was first proposed in July of 2011, this action would have generated close to $300,000, Councilor Pam Mackenzie said. This would have covered possible additional staff costs, consultant costs, loss of revenue and legal issues, Miller added.

Miller asked the rest of the Council members their stance on hiring another staff member for the zoning committee since one member is on maternity leave. The vote was unanimous in favor of creating a job description, and finding an individual qualified for taking on this project.

Whether or not they will cut costs in other services in staff in other departments will be determined after further investigation of how the FY 2012 budget turns out. Dipping into the Contingency budget or if there is a surplus after minimal plowing this year were topics of consideration.

The Contingency budget should be reserved for unexpected situations, Deputy City Manager Bob Rusten said. If unexpected items were to come up for planning the Interim-Zoning bylaw, then it would be acceptable to use the funds.

Interim-Zoning: City Council working as a Deliberative Body for IZ

In working to become a cohesive body for interim-zoning, the City Council looked into the recent training from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) model, and into the Development Review Board’s existing rules and procedures. VLCT is a nonprofit that provides educational workshops and advice for municipal officials, and works to engage and educate the public about Vermont local government, according to its site.

 In terms of laying out the rules, Miller asked if members should write custom rules or adopt one of the other existing models. How they would process public input was an important item on the agenda.

Paul Connor, director of Planning and Zoning, outlined the main differences of the two sets of Rules of Procedure from the VLCT.

One of the biggest differences is that “they’re meetings in the public, not meetings of the public,” Connor said. Interested persons, or those who have legal grounds to testify, would have priority to speak.  There would then be a limited block of time for the rest of the public to speak. This is the model the DRB is using.

The other model is where everyone is treated equally, Connor said. Determining who is and who is not an interested person is at the discretion of the City Council, he said.

 The City Council would be the governing body making a decision; if that decision is appealed, then the appellant chooses the grounds on which they’re appealing it. When brought to the court, it is freshly received; whether or not the City Council made the right decision does not play a role at this level, Connor explained.

Where it would play a role would be if Municipal Administrative Procedures Act (MAPA), which is an on the record review where the City Council’s decision is recognized and considered, Connor said.

The Council unanimously decided to stay with the Rules of Procedure set out by the DRB in order to avoid confusion and make it friendlier for applicants.

City Council meetings are now held every Monday at 6 p.m. with the exception of April 23 and May 28.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent