The city council Monday night approved a resolution based on the planning commission’s recommendation to enact interim zoning bylaws halting new construction in South Burlington, but for a limited time.
A public hearing on the resolution will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the Green Mountain Room at City Hall.
The council approved the addition of a “sunset clause” into the motion that would require a check-in with the planning commission at nine months, with the possibility of extending the interim zoning bylaw in three month increments beyond that, up to the maximum of two years.
A motion was made first to amend the resolution proposed by Councilor Meaghan Emory to include the sunset clause and completion of the planning commission’s ongoing review of the Planned Unit Development regulations in the city. That motion passed 4-0-1, with Councilor Tom Chittenden recusing himself. Chittenden explained that he and his family members own land in the Southeast Quadrant of the city, where so many residents are concerned about development and the loss of green space, and that he felt he had a “fiduciary interest” in the potential interim zoning bylaw passing.
The vote on the resolution as amended authorized city attorney Andrew Bolduc to draft the interim zoning bylaw to include “no new development of principal structures, exempting accessory dwelling units, the transit overlay district, Meadowlands, the Ethan Allen Industrial Park and similar areas in the city, and the airport”.
The motion to approve the resolution as amended passed 4-1 with Chittenden the lone dissenting vote. Prior to both votes, Chittenden read a statement into the record explaining his position.
“I think interim zoning is a heavy-handed tool that undercuts our responsible, thoughtful and existing planning processes employed by our current staff,” Chittenden said.
Although Chittenden noted that his opposition was based on a previous draft of the resolution, he outlined several issues with the proposal. They included the unknown costs associated with the studies planned, the housing shortage in the area, the potential distraction interim zoning would create for the council, and the potential of negating property rights.
“I’m concerned this action might be motivated to stop all new housing in the Southeast Quadrant,” Chittenden said. “The housing shortage in South Burlington and the greater Burlington areas is driving up prices and our land owners have rights to employ their land in line with the best uses available based on our current land development regulation, which have been thoughtfully crafted over the years… I am one of those landowners and I’m related to a few others... I can’t support the trajectory of this resolution because it appears to be insensitive to their interests.”
WHAT IT MEANS
Interim zoning is a bylaw that places a moratorium on city development for up to two years in order to allow an assessment of current zoning regulations and the city’s Comprehensive Plan. This is not the first time the city has enacted such a resolution. In 2012, interim zoning was approved and in effect for two years, and once more prior to that. The issue divided the city. Opponents saw it as anti-business, supporters welcomed the freeze.
Having interim zoning bylaws in place will not affect current plans for development that have already come before the Development Review Board and received plat approval, such as the proposed Dorset Meadows project, which proposes a 164-unit planned unit development on 72 acres in the city’s Southeast Quadrant south of Nowland Farm Drive off Dorset Street. This is the heart of the city’s Southeast Quadrant, which features open fields, views of the Green Mountains, and agricultural land.
It was the location and size of the Dorset Meadows project, unveiled at a July 26 Development Review Board meeting, that alarmed many residents and underlined for some a disconnect between the city’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations. The Dorset Meadows project is in compliance with both.
The purpose in establishing the Southeast Quadrant was to encourage open space preservation, scenic views and natural resource protection, wildlife habitat preservation, continued agriculture, and well-planned residential use. To enforce these goals, the SEQ is eligible for Transfer Development Rights. A developer purchases the development rights of another parcel and transfers it to a parcel that is planned for denser development. thus leaving the former parcel open in perpetuity. The base density in the SEQ is 1.2 units per acre. The total allowable density in the Neighborhood Residential zoning area is four units per acre and up to eight units per acre on developable land in the Village Residential sub-district.
The Planning Commission voted in favor of recommending a six-month interim zoning bylaw to the council at a meeting on Oct. 9 (see story, pg. 6)
Planning Commission Chair Jessica Lousios appeared before the council Monday night to outline the commission’s recommendation for six months of interim zoning.
“We put six months, but I think that is really a symbol of having a focused effort so landowners aren’t in limbo for too long,” she explained. “We’re hoping for a concise period and a distinct push.”
Louisos also said the commission would use the time not only to complete its review of the PUD regulations, but to also review the city’s Transfer Development Rights program.
“It will allow us to really go back and look into what the program does, how it works, and what the options are,” Louisos said. None of us were on the planning commission when the program was conceived. I think some of us feel we need to look at what it does and is it working?”
With interim zoning in place, a few members of the council said the break would give the planning commission a chance to “catch up”. Councilor Dave Kaufman proposed the nine-month length to the interim bylaw, saying he felt the planning commission’s recommendation of a six-month bylaw was too short.
“Interim zoning would allow the planning commission to get some stuff of their plate, so they can concentrate of the things they need to concentrate on,” he said. “And I think we have a duty to the folks in the city to do that. As much as I don’t like to stifle development, I don’t think we are. I think we’re giving the planning commission a chance to catch up.”
A public hearing on the interim zoning resolution will be held on Nov. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall. The city council will take public comment on the issue before any amendments are made and before a final vote on the resolution.
SOURCE: Lee Kahrs, The Other Paper