Thursday August 27, 2015
At the first city council meeting in August, Project Director Ilona Blanchard presented a draft TIF (tax increment finance) Policy for council discussion along with a list of recommended projects to be put on the ballot for a public vote. These projects, chosen from 11 previously approved City Center projects, included Market Street, Dumont Park, and the building for a new community library. After considerable discussion, the council decided it would be prudent to hold a public hearing on the draft policy at their August 18 meeting in order to give members of the public an opportunity to weigh in.
Tim McKenzie of South Burlington Realty came to the public hearing to voice his concerns over elements of the policy he thought might deter development in City Center. “There are elements of the policy that just don’t jive with form based code,” he said. “At least with that, developers know up front what’s expected and the process for getting permits; this policy would hinder that process,” he argued. McKenzie added that he thought if this was going to be the new standard, it should be embedded in the zoning code, not in a separate policy.
The draft TIF Policy, in part, reads, “Successful proposal requires high quality in building materials, architecture and site design to achieve visual interest and human scale. Successful projects will place a premium on developing land efficiently and enhancing the value and function of adjacent properties.”
In Blanchard’s August 3 presentation, she explained that development proposals supported by public investment are expected to meet not just the development standards as outlined by the city adopted land development regulations, which apply to all properties, but should also demonstrate innovative design, a commitment to alternative transportation modes, and sustainability.
City Manager Kevin Dorn, in response to McKenzie, pointed out that form-based code is being developed for an area greater than City Center, but doesn’t create incentives for developers who want to go above and beyond. “If you meet the minimum, you’ve met the expectations of the city and that’s fine,” Dorn said, “but we have created a financial incentive to go beyond the minimum . . . we are willing to invest alongside you.”
Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner added that form based code created a standard that could be accomplished by developers without necessitating public funding.
Former councilor and South Burlington resident Sandy Dooley said she thought that buildings that are above the base standard will create diversity in City Center and attract more businesses as a result.
Nowak asked McKenzie to send the council a list of his concerns prior to their September 8 meeting where this will continue to be a topic of discussion.
Initial Vote Delayed
The council had intended to consider and possibly adopt a staff recommendation on the initial round of TIF District projects and review ballot language for a potential November vote, but plans have changed. A legal opinion, received on the morning of August 18, informed the city that a vote should include approval of TIF District projects as well as the question of incurring debt for such projects. Dorn said that likely would not give the city enough time to inform the public prior to November on items such as cost and location of buildings.
The vote could be pushed back as far as March or June of 2016; further discussion will take place at the council’s September 8 meeting.
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent