Thursday September 05, 2013
“What makes a good place?” Gary Toth, Project for Public Spaces consultant, asked a room full of South Burlington community members.
One by one, answers emerged: Trees. Water. Neighbors. Safety. Food. Benches. Sunlight.
This is the essence of Placemaking, a process that takes community input and places focus on how neighborhoods, schools, parks, shopping areas, buildings, and streets all merge together to create a sense of unity. It’s about achieving what makes a great place: social opportunities, access and linkages, uses and activities, and comfort and images.
This is the new vision of South Burlington, and since last fall, the city’s been working with two consultants to help create a new set of zoning regulations and ordinances--Form Based Code--to replace the city’s current approach. Form Based Code is designed with the Placemaking tool in mind where the community is the expert, and the code falls into place.
The consultants, Dreher Designs and Project for Public Spaces, conducted a community visioning week in February, and they recently hosted Visioning Week 2, Aug. 26-29. During Visioning Week 2, the consultants shared their progress and encouraged citizens to engage in evening community workshops; these workshops allowed citizens to determine how they want the future of their city to grow by assessing a series of locations: Kmart Plaza, Williston Rd., SEQ Village area, and the Eastwoods area. There were also city-conducted interviews with stakeholders during each day.
Visioning Week began with a kick off meeting the Thursday prior, Aug. 22, as a recap and update of previous work. When the following week approached, the community partook in two types of on-site workshops: Place Mapping and Route Mapping, as well as Place Auditing. For place mapping, participants identified existing areas on an aerial map and labeled them as good quality, areas of opportunity, or underperforming areas via color-coded sticker dots representing each level of quality. The route mapping activity invited participants to map out existing and ideal routes and connections for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists; for visualization, facilitators provided tracing paper and colored markers to outline routes and connectors. The place auditing workshops are site specific and help stakeholders gage residents’ concerns and ideas by visiting the site.
Monday Workshop: Kmart Plaza
The first workshop, Monday evening, participants met at the Kmart parking lot and walked around the site. They assessed the area before heading back to City Hall to map out their findings. Could the site be used for affordable housing, or could it be another downtown area? Before long, a generation of ideas swayed from mouth to paper, and the consultants will use the feedback for continued work. See correspondent Corey Burdick’s coverage in last week’s edition of The Other Paper for details.
Williston Rd.Tuesday night’s workshop at the Best Western on Williston Road brought together a diverse crowd comprised of residents, committee members, members of the planning commission, developers, and Councilor Chris Shaw. The evening discussion concerned Williston Road and the surrounding neighborhoods. Across the board, all four tables had placed red (underperforming) and yellow (opportunity) dots along Williston Road; those dots were triggered by safety and connectivity issues including, but not limited to: adding a better crossing at Rt. 2 (Williston Road) and Dorset St., improving the bike path on the complete street on Rt. 2 (bikes still use the sidewalk), adding and improving amenities, creating a distinct entrance into the city, improving safety at the triangle at Al’s, creating opportunity for development behind Cheese Traders, creating a recreation path opportunity behind The Windjammer and Best Western to get across I-89, and adding a few extra seconds of crossing time in high traffic areas. Roundabouts and making Rt. 2 a one-way street were also individual ideas. Blue dots (high quality) found themselves atop of schools and their neighborhoods, parks (e.g. Jaycee Park), local businesses, and Hinesburg Road.
SEQ Village AreaWednesday night’s workshop gathered a group of roughly 40 people--residents, property owners, and committee members-- at the Vermont Country Club to discuss the future of the South East Quadrant area. Group members identified collectively that they enjoy the natural open areas, parks, and recreation path. However, the area could use some work, particularly tight streets that could foster an opportunity for a bike path. There were mixed feelings of quality regarding the village area near the Cider Mill, recreation path connection opportunities, and an opening discussion of road connectivity.
EastwoodThursday’s Farrell/Eastwood workshop at Cathedral Square was the last of the workshops. Though there was a smaller turnout, there was no lack of energy. The room initially broke off into two groups, but toward the end of the evening, both groups found themselves working together on the same aerial map. The area could benefit by adding connectors along the bike path, finding a solution to traffic that floods into Hadley Rd. and other neighborhoods along Shelburne Rd., adding linkages along Rt. 7, adding bike/pedestrian connectivity from Rice to Joy Dr., improving safety at the intersection of Pine St. and Flynn St., addressing areas with higher crime rates, and improving the aesthetics en route to Farrell Park, among other improvements. Commercial areas such as the Starbucks strip provided mixed feelings since they function well as destinations, but the overall setting, surrounded by pavement, is unpleasant. A few points that worked included Klinger’s Bread area, the shared use path along Farrell, and the neighborhood near the post office.
To finish the week, participants were invited to the Wheeler Homestead Open House and Ice Cream Social hosted by the Open Space Committee.
ReflectionsOverall reactions reflected positively on South Burlington’s civic engagement during Visioning Week. Resident Bernie Paquette said that the workshops were valuable since they served as a melting pot of new ideas. Resident Meaghan Emery shared that the workshops served as a healthy exercise to see what’s working and what needs constructive criticism: “I really think this is a very livable neighborhood, but could it be better? Yes.”
Michael Simoneau, Form Based Code Committee Chair, took a realistic and optimistic approach.
“There are some things that can be done and maybe they don’t cost as much money,” he said. “...There are some things we can do like provide enhancements (e.g. improved crosswalks), and it will make the community feel that these outcomes are tangible. There are some big things we’ll have to wait a long time for...but provide some outcomes that people can see.”
Consultant Paul Dreher, who says that Form Based Code can be seen as the purest form of green growth, noted that the Form Based Code Committee, which once looked to Dreher for answers, is now talking coherently about it and can answer almost all questions without assistance.
“When we have discussions now with stakeholders and people we had one on one interviews with...the conversation is much more engaged this time around,” he said.
Toth agreed with the impressive level of engagement.
“All and all, I have been very impressed by the talent and energy in South Burlington, he said. “These folks love where they live and were generous with their time and energy.”
“We’ve had excellent community input in lots of different ways whether it’s through these visioning meetings, through all these amazing committees, through the people who attend these committees, or through the amazing emails we’e been getting,” Paul Conner, Director of Planning and Zoning, said.
Keep up with the conversation by attending city meetings--particularly the Form Based Code Committee, interacting with neighbors, and visiting the city’s site, www.sburl.com, for frequent Form Based Code updates and improved documents.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent