Understanding Revised LDRs: Tools for Understanding South Burlington Revised Land Development Regulations

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Thursday August 21, 2014

The revised South Burlington Land Development Regulations are ready for review, but for those opening the document for the first time, how many understand the changes being proposed?

Almost 400 pages long, the document is the result of over two years of Planning Commission reviewing and revising based on reports from the City Council Interim Zoning Committees (Form Based Code, Open Space, Affordable Housing and Sustainable Agriculture/Food Security), other committees such as Recreation and Leisure Arts, and public feedback from several meetings and workshops. The city also hired a stormwater consultant, Stone Environmental, to produce a report to help shape the city’s proposed stormwater regulations.

The deadline for feedback was August 5. Many comments have flooded in, and City Planner Cathyann LaRose said there would be more to come. At the Planning Commission meeting August 12, one point was clear: this dense document requires a more condensed explanation.

“They don’t understand it,” Commissioner Sophie Quest said. “Can we give them something better?”

Commissioners came up with an FAQ section to aid residents who would like to understand the regulations more without having to translate the entire document. It is hoped that addressing a list of particular questions will clear up confusion, particularly around City Center Form Based Code.

“I think there is some confusion that the code itself is not going to decide ultimately what City Center becomes; it’s going to dictate what the buildings look like and what the streets look like,” Commissioner Gretchen Calcagni explained. “It’s not going to dictate whether a high-end shopping center goes in or where the city green goes. That’s all dependent on private developers.”

Resident Rosanne Greco and Affordable Housing Subcommittee Chair John Simson also suggested showing photos of Form Based Code- based areas as they exist in cities and towns around the country, including Vermont (i.e. Newport).

City Planner Cathyann LaRose asked if commissioners would consider an executive summary. As long as an FAQ section is included, a high-level overview of Form Based Code would be helpful. Even so, LaRose warned that an abridged version could have other unintended consequences if it doesn’t provide clear direction.

“If you leave out a piece and just get into a certain portion of it, some feel that you are trying to lead the discussion toward specific items and intentionally leave out something you’re trying to hide, so that’s the danger of summarizing,” she said.

“I think what some of us are looking for is what’s the plan going to be like,” Open Space Committee member Jennifer Kochman said. “How are the streets going to be designed? Where is the green space going to be? What are the related parks of different size going to be? Is there going to be a playground, a boardwalk...we’re kind of waiting...trying to get a sense of where that’s going.”

Kochman said that the answers aren’t all available, as they’re dependent on future proposals, but she offered a tool commissioners could use for clarity purposes.

“Maybe you could tell us a progress report: this is where we’re going and thinking about this...something that lets us know that the progress is going along in certain ways.”

Paul Conner, the director of the Planning and Zoning department, agreed. While the process may be clearly understood by those directly involved or have been avidly following, it may not be for others.

“If the city were to have a library, that’s not an automatic, that’s something the council and voters would need to choose to do,” he said. “A lot of people also think we own the land in City Center, but we don’t.”

Wrapping up the discussion, commissioners gave staff the green light to produce an FAQ (categorized by subject, per the request of Commissioner Ted Riehle), an explanation of the process, terms, photos, and a high-level summary. Staff plans to include information across various platforms like The Other Paper and Front Porch Forum.

There are many unknowns for how City Center will take form, and there will be tools forthcoming to digest the possibilities. In the meantime, Greco posed a question which remains unanswered:

“If someone were to write a book about South Burlington, what picture would be on the cover?”

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent