Councilor’s Corner - Interim Zoning Committee Updates

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Thursday February 07, 2013

City Center: Form Based Code

Paul Engels, City Councilor
Form Based Codes Committees

The South Burlington City Council is focused on the future and the future of South Burlington is clearly City Center. After years of talking and planning, South Burlington is taking steps to make the dream of a downtown become a reality. Three interrelated initiatives focused on City Center are currently underway: Market Street, Form Based Code, and the TIF District.

Market Street runs through the middle of City Center from Dorset Street to Hinesburg Road. The City Council has approved $1.7 million to match $5.5 million in federal funds to pave Market Street and to develop the infrastructure, including storm water. Engineering for this project will begin this spring, creating a challenge for us to agree upon a land use and street pattern for City Center.

The Form Based Code (FBC) Committee is responding to this challenge with a new approach to land development regulations that will value form over function. South Burlington’s current regulations divide the city into zoning districts and assign a function to each: commercial, industrial, and residential. Form Based Code does away with zones and asks only what we want our city to look like. In City Center, we want a mixed-use urban downtown with shops, stores, restaurants, offices, and residences. We want downtown to attract people and allow them to walk, shop, work and live in a pleasant urban environment. So we will write code based on this form.

The FBC Committee has been working since last July, developing this code for City Center and our ideas are beginning to coalesce into a regulating plan. We want a new city hall and library in the City Center. We want the 15 acres of wetlands around Potash Brook to become an urban park with walkways and benches. The street at the intersection by Healthy Living will cross City Center and Market Street to Williston Road. Buildings for a permanent, year-round farmers’ market can be located in this area

We envision that multi-story, downtown buildings with storefront windows, restaurants with outdoor dining, and residences and offices on the upper floors will line Market Street. City Center will be an inviting place where you can park and walk and enjoy our city’s downtown.

The City Council is also working on a strategy to pay for the public improvements needed to support private development of City Center. We have applied to the state for a Tax Increment Financing district in City Center. Because the six TIF districts created through statute have already been granted to other municipalities around Vermont, we are asking the Legislature to create a seventh TIF district for us.

A TIF District is a mechanism for funding public infrastructure in a targeted area to encourage private development.  As the value of property within the TIF district increases above its value at the time the district was created, the additional property taxes collected can be used to pay for the public improvements in the district. South Burlington will be able to bond for the various projects in City Center, including the construction and upgrading of streets, infrastructure, and civic facilities. That debt will be largely paid from the ‘tax increment’ —that amount of additional tax revenue generated within the district.

The TIF district will create a funding mechanism that will avoid the need for city taxpayers to bear the financial burden of the major improvements needed to make City Center a reality. The three initiatives together will give us a downtown that will be the place to see and be seen in Vermont.

 

Growing Together

Rosanne Greco, City Councilor
Sustainable Agriculture Committee

Sustainable agriculture is about our future, and the future of our grandchildren, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren.  Experts tell us that our current food system is broken.  Over the past 50 years, huge conglomerates have altered the nature of farming.   The “industrialization” of farming is destroying fertile land and lowering the nutritional value of food.  We are getting fatter eating non-nutritious food.  Obesity levels and health problems, especially in children, are increasing.  At the same time, development is paving over other farmland.  We are losing prime farmland at a rate of approximately 3,000 acres per day.

Like other concerned people across our country, some folks in our city started to learn about and then talk about this serious issue.  And then we joined together and created a vision:  to transform South Burlington into a city that provides all its residents with affordable, locally grown, healthy, organic food.  Under Interim Zoning, we formed a task force to develop plans to accomplish this.

To date, the Sustainable Agriculture/Food Security task force’s consultant has mapped our city’s soils, estimated produce yields and income from raising crops, is researching financial incentives for landowners who want to preserve their land for farming, and is developing land regulations to preserve fertile land.  We compiled a resource list, and created the Food Revolution discussion series at the library.  We are working with Common Roots to find arable city land to produce food for our schools and for needy South Burlington families, and to get our children involved with growing food.  On February 9th, we are hosting a UVM-sponsored free symposium on ways to lease land to farmers.

While we can’t feed everyone in South Burlington, we certainly can feed some.  And we won’t let what we can’t do, deter us from doing what we can.  Just like seeds, which don’t produce fruit overnight, our SusAg efforts will take time to blossom.  But, we are definitely sprouting!  Come grow with us.

 

Affordable Housing:  A Keystone
to a Vibrant Community

Sandy Dooley, City Councilor
Affordable Housing Committee

Your extraordinary Affordable Housing Committee first met this past July.  The meaning of “affordable housing” in terms of targeted household income levels is often misunderstood.  The Council’s charge to the committee specifies households with incomes below 80% of the median with flexibility to target higher incomes.  Committee work has focused on household incomes in these ranges:  one-person HH, <80% $42,960, <100% $53,700; two-person, <80% $49,120, <120% $73,700; three-person, <80% $55,240, <120% $82,900; four-person, <80% $61,360, <120% $92,050.  

Housing costs have long been perceived as burdensome for many City households.  Vermont Housing Finance Agency data shows these perceptions are accurate.  Housing expenses exceed the 30%-of-household-income affordability threshold for more than one-third of South Burlington households.  One in eight households spends at least 50% of its household income on housing.  Between 2010 and 2015, SB is expected to gain 404 households (1% per year). Household size, age of household head, housing type, and household type demographics are changing. One- and two-person households comprise 69% percent of the City’s households, and this population segment is growing faster than larger households.  More than two in five SB household heads are at least 55 years old; this segment is growing faster than younger households. Families with children comprise 25% of SB households, with minimal growth.  The proportion of SB households owning their home decreased from 69% in 2000 to 65% in 2010.

Committee-sponsored public outreach included a Housing Summit, five Neighborhood Meetings, and three focus groups.  Neighborhood meeting participants were unanimous in seeing affordable housing as a SB need; viewing City Center as a place for new housing, including affordable housing, and other City locations within walking distance of shopping, services, and transit; supporting a variety of housing types—small single family with fewer amenities; cluster and cottage housing; and higher density, taller multi-family housing; and judging development costs as a barrier to developing affordable housing. 

The committee is now examining policies and funding mechanisms that support affordable housing—including density bonuses, Form-Based Codes, inclusionary zoning, and a Housing Trust Fund.  Preserving existing affordable housing is a committee goal, along with developing new housing.

 

Open Space, Open Minds

Helen Riehle, City Councilor
Open Space Committee

Open Space is included as one of the four goals of Interim Zoning and focused work and conversation began last November.  The Open Space Committee is constituted as an extension of the existing Natural Resources Committee.  By building upon the work of this committee, we seized the opportunity to expeditiously build upon existing work and visioning regarding future open space needs for South Burlington, effectively integrate citizens already interested and conversant in the topic, add other perspectives to the conversation and, at the same time, address open space within the context of interim zoning.

The new committee has developed a vision statement.  “The City of South Burlington will preserve, create, and restore adequate public and private open spaces throughout the city that address needs for recreation, agriculture, habitat, environmental stewardship, and important public scenic views.”  We further developed goals, priorities, and strategies that can set a course to realize the vision and that also reflect the Planning Commission’s draft Comprehensive Plan and past work of the Natural Resources (NR) Committee. (The complete document is posted at www.sburl.com  in the City Council packet for 1/22/13.) 

Several approaches will direct our work.  1) We are focused on open space needs for the entire city. 2) We recognize the overlap with the work and scope of sustainable agriculture, form based codes, and the Planning Commission and aim to work closely with them.  3) The consultant to Open Space will work closely with Sus Ag’s consultants to avoid duplication and build on shared knowledge.  And last but not least, 4) Public input and conversation is critical to identifying solid, thoughtful recommendations for land use regulations that actualize the shared goals and visions of our community.

The Natural Resources and Open Space Committee consists of all Natural Resources Committee members:  Peter Jones, Chair; Patrick Clemens; Russell Agne; Betty Milizia; Laurel Williams; Mark Depuy and Jonathan Miller. New members were added to broaden the conversation and provide important connections to other community efforts:  Barbara Benton (Planning Commission), Patricia Allen (The Land Trust), Jennifer Kochman (Leisure Arts Committee), and Helen Riehle (City Council).  We meet the first and third Thursdays of each month, 7 – 9 p.m. with Natural Resource issues addressed on the first Thursday and Open Space work conducted exclusively on the third Thursday.  All are welcome to attend!