What do you want City Center to look like?

Home » City » What do you want City Center to look like?

Thursday October 13, 2011


Today we’re asking a slightly different question: “how do we get City Center to look like you want it to?” Almost the same question, but in many ways, different and more important.

In City Center, and along Williston Road just to its north, development and conservation is a three-way collaboration, between the private sector (landowners, developers, businesses), the public sector (the city, the schools, the state and the Federal government), and the community (residents, employees, shoppers, and strollers).

The City of South Burlington owns very little land in this area, so the decisions of when and where to develop land are led by the private sector. But, through regulations (and potential public infrastructure investment), the city and community can establish the rules and framework for this development. Essentially, this is the basis of zoning.

A new type of regulation.

Most of today’s zoning regulations here and across the country are written to protect against bad development.  What if, instead, our regulations promoted good development?

If we want sidewalks along which to walk, and eat, then let’s promote that. If we want convenient parking, but in a way that’s not an eyesore, then let’s promote that. If we want smooth transitions from a downtown to quiet, residential neighborhoods, then let’s  promote that. If we want two smaller buildings instead of one larger one (or the other way around), then let’s promote that.

Form Based Codes

This is where our current project comes in. A new(er) standard and style of regulation is growing in popularity throughout the country, termed “Form-Based Codes.” Newport was the first city in Vermont to adopt one, last year, and now South Burlington, Burlington, Colchester, St. Albans City, and others are in various stages of implementation.

A Form Based Code prioritizes the overall design of a property over the use within it. More importantly, perhaps, how a piece of land is to be developed is made clear up front. So if we’re looking for a building on a corner lot to abut the street on both sides, have a side or corner entry, and be 2-3 stories tall, then that’s what goes in the regulation.

A Form Based Code is also clearer for everyone. This is one of the big keys. It often sets a high bar for what the community wants to see in an area. But, in exchange, there’s a lot more certainty for everyone involved about where the bar is. Ultimately, everyone can win because projects that are submitted for review by the city have very clear standards and much less grey-area.

Now, the important part. If we’re to be very clear and create certainty for applicants and neighbors, then we need to work together, up front, to set the rules.

Four-day community design workshop.

October 26–29, the City will be playing host to a four-day community workshop (see the schedule in this week’s edition of The Other Paper). By the end of this workshop we expect to have an outline of the future regulations for the City Center and Williston Road area. Our consultants will return in January to refine the regulations. It is our goal to have a complete draft by May.

We hope to see each of you there. Please enjoy a free pizza dinner on Wednesday, and snacks and hors d’ouevres on Friday and Saturday.

We need you, and hope to see you there.

For more information about the Community Design Workshop, visit www.sburl.com/planning.

SOURCE: Paul Conner, AICP, Director of Planning & Zoning