Grant Looks at Master Plan and Planned Unit Development

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Thursday April 28, 2016

A new planning tool is in the works to encourage innovative thinking for the city’s larger properties.

South Burlington was approved for a planning grant to look at Master Plan/Planned Unit Development (PUD)/Node zoning tools throughout the city. Sharon Murray of Front Porch Community Planning & Design is the consultant hired for the task. Murray has worked for South Burlington in the past for the Open Space report. Funds for the planning grant must be spent by the end of May.

Murray attended the April 14 planning commission meeting to outline the scope of work and initial concepts around such tools. City Planner Cathyann LaRose explained that the standards do not address the range of activities that should, could, and might take place for mixed use, and the goal is to ensure what is built meets the vision of the community without hampering creativity in good design.

“How do we create standards that all stakeholders can expect, and how do we address great development ideas that we might not have thought of in advance?” she asked.
LaRose said she and Murray have looked at a city map to identify some of the properties that could fall under use of this future tool. LaRose listed things to consider including geography, parcel size (“large” is not yet defined), tools that might be used in transit districts, and consideration of larger properties in City Center. Members listed other large properties for consideration, such as the K-Mart Plaza property, nodes (neighborhood, agricultural), and the Farrell property.

Murray explained that since they will need to cover 18 months’ worth of work in a six-week timeframe, she has enlisted the help of SE Group to work on the project, as well.

Murray launched right into a PUD discussion. A PUD is a type of building development and regulatory process. It’s a tool used to push for creative planning and design to achieve a variety of objectives.

According to the South Burlington Land Development Regulations, a PUD is defined as “one or more parcels of land to be developed as a single entity, the plan for which may propose any authorized combination of density or intensity transfers or increases, as well as mixing of land uses. This plan, as authorized, may deviate from bylaw requirements that are otherwise applicable to the area in which it is located with respect to the area, density or dimensional requirements or allowable number of structures and uses per lot as established in any one or more districts created under the provisions of these regulations. The specific requirements of a PUD and the area, density and dimensional provisions that may be modified are defined in each district in which PUDs are allowed.”

Furthermore, under existing regulations, properties over 10 acres are required to meet PUD standards; master plans are required for some PUDs and recommended for all. A master plan is a plan intended to guide the arrangement of developed and undeveloped areas and streets within a land development project.

“What function do you want planned unit development to serve as we go forward?” she asked the commission.

Murray explained that PUDs have evolved over time and that there are a variety of types. She provided a few examples, such as PUDs with traditional neighborhood design, campus-type PUDs (i.e. tech parks), and PUDs that support transit. She will try to create a palette of different types of PUDs and hone in on where to place them throughout the city.

Does that include the newly-adopted Form Based Code City Center District? Currently, PUDs are not allowed in City Center. Murray explained that Form Based Code was developed by architects with the intention of making regulations more prescriptive and steer away from PUDs. Even so, Form Based Code can co-exist with PUDs in instances like infill development.

Commissioner Tracey Harrington asked what would happen if Form Based Code is implemented citywide. Murray said that there are some things in Form Based Code - like building types - that could be applied under a PUD; LaRose said that staff will touch base with the commission on that topic.

In regard to City Center, LaRose said that staff has received feedback asking for more flexibility. This would pose a problem since Form Based Code is prescriptive. Allowing too much flexibility effectively dismisses the hard work that went into creating the code. Understanding the types of issues that arise and developing trade-off options could be a possible solution, she said.

Commissioner Art Klugo expressed concern about making changes to a new process (Form Based Code) that has not been tried for long.

“I agree, but I think we’re trying to create a situation that precludes bad projects...and allow the creativity,” Commissioner Ted Riehle said, expressing the idea that he would hate to see a developer who comes up with a great idea not be able to do something.

“It may be a little bit of work, to work through the process, but that’s how good projects happen,” Klugo said. “Good projects don’t happen because they check off the boxes. In fact, the worst projects are the ones that just check the boxes and don’t have any creativity. The creativity exists in what we have today, it’s just how hard do we all want to work to make that happen?”

Commissioner Bernie Gagnon clarified that members were not just discussing City Center but also properties outside of City Center. Murray advised that PUDs should not be in the City Center at this time but that they will need to figure out what will work.

For areas where PUDs could be applied, they will have to consider whether these large areas should be tied into the community or if they should be buffered, Murray said.

Gagnon suggested identifying parameters that the city may want, such as mixed use. LaRose suggested commissioners select elements they like from the Hill Farm and O’Brien projects and share with Murray for direction as she develops the palettes of PUD types.

Given the grant-funding deadline, the planning commission may hold a special meeting with Murray on May 3.