Thursday May 19, 2016
With Tim Barritt switching seats for a place on the city council in March, the Development Review Board (DRB) was left with a vacant spot — but not for long. Stepping up to the plate is Frank Kochman, a lawyer and 28-year resident with a desire to give back to the community.
The DRB welcomed Kochman as its newest member in mid-April. He is serving a three-year term and brings the board back to seven members.
Kochman made the move to the city in 1987 for the excellent schools and professional opportunities in South Burlington. Proximity to Lake Champlain, downtown, recreation, accessible woods and open space were other draws that helped Kochman make the move from Huntington. After relishing in the city’s treasures, Kochman felt it was time to pay it forward.
“In principle, I believe in active citizenship,” Kochman said. “My wife, Jennifer, has been an active member of city committees for a number of years...Given my experience, the DRB seemed a logical place to try to fit in.”
For 35 years, Kochman has practiced law in Chittenden County, much of which involved development, real estate finance, and land use. He also served as counsel to the Vermont Housing Agency, and his practice still includes organization dedicated to the creation and preservation of affordable housing with traditional commercial interests.
With all this under his belt, Kochman’s new challenge is to gradually get himself up-to-speed on the latest Land Development Regulations, the city regulations that the board must follow when reviewing applications. Often referring to himself as “the rookie” among board members, Kochman isn’t shy to ask other board members and Administrative Officer Ray Belair what the regulations allow under a variety of scenarios.
A significant section of the Land Development Regulations that all board members are familiarizing themselves with is the newly-adopted City Center Form Based Code.
Having grown up around Philadelphia’s magnificent civic, cultural, and educational spaces and beautiful views, Kochman is familiar with what a City Center can be.
“When I came to Vermont, I recognized a similarly organized, fully conscious civic theme on a smaller, charming scale in the central greens and meeting houses of many towns and, significantly, on a somewhat larger scale, in Burlington,” he said. “We cannot and should not aspire to be Philadelphia. On the other hand, we should certainly be able to equal, if not surpass Burlington in providing a civic and cultural center.”
Form Based Code has potential for positive change, but Kochman stressed that “the devil’s in the details.”
“The Form Based Code is a good start,” he said. “I see a struggle in balancing the relentless, inarguable, but nevertheless tedious and short-sighted mantra of ‘tax revenue’ against the longer range concern of making a real citizens’ gathering place that is not just another shopping mall.”
As the DRB continues to oversee subdivision, site plans, conditional use, and other board review applications, Kochman and his fellow board members will continue to face the task of balancing enforcement of the regulations city-wide while trying to align with the larger visions of the city; occasionally, there are aesthetic conflicts which require a bit of problem-solving. This requires persistent collaboration with all parties involved, especially the developers.
“In sports language, and as a diehard Phillies fan, I think what we need most is guys who can hit and catch the ball,” Kochman explained. “Translated, that means skillful and imaginative developers who are clever enough to make the bottom line viable without making the skyline ugly -- those whose arms do not need to be twisted but whose own values make them a little slower to sacrifice aesthetics to the profit margin. Finding hitters who can also play their positions on a consistent basis is not easy, as my poor Phillies have demonstrated far more often than not.”
Developing attractive affordable housing is an example of the dilemma that can sometimes take place, but it’s not impossible. “It’s been done — in Burlington, in Shelburne, and elsewhere. The South Burlington Housing Trust is a good start, but there is no magic formula,” he said.
When Kochman isn’t evaluating future development or practicing law, he may be out on the water casting a line for his next catch, enjoying time on the South Burlington recreation path, or playing his saxophone with the Vermont Jazz Ensemble.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent