The city’s interim zoning committees need more time to complete their studies, meaning a nine-month pause on development could be extended another three months. 

At a special joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting Aug. 1, the three interim zoning committees: Open Space, Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) Interim Zoning and Planning Commission on Planned Unit Developments (PUDs)/Subdivision Master Plans, each indicated their work could use some extra time to be completed. 

Interim zoning took effect last November and taps the brakes on land development — with some exceptions — for nine months with the option to renew it in three-month increments for up to two years. It was inspired in part by some residents’ concerns about the pace and scale of development in the city and what they believed might be a misalignment between the city’s overall plan for its future and land use regulations. Interim zoning is currently set to end on Aug. 13, but councilors will decide whether or not to extend it at a public hearing on Aug. 9. 

The meeting 

During the Aug. 1 meeting, representatives from the three Interim Zoning subcommittees, as well as the Affordable Housing Committee, spoke of their studies and findings during the nine-month halt on city development. The three interim zoning committees each expressed a desire for an extension of the bylaw, which would allow them to finish their studies without development sullying their recommendations.

Each of the committees was tasked with examining conservation and development goals through a different lens. Open Space considered priority conservation of existing open spaces, forest blocks, agricultural areas and other natural resources for the sustenance of local ecosystems. They studied 180 parcels of land looking at various natural assets to weigh high priority and low priority future conservation areas. 

The TDR Interim Zoning Committee examined ways to modify the TDR program with respect to where TDR development rights should be allowed and where they shouldn’t. 

And the Planning Commission on PUD/Subdivision Master Plans recommended four types of PUDs among other suggestions. 

Open Space

The first interim zoning committee up was the Open Space Interim Zoning Committee. Its chair, Allan Strong, outlined the committee’s charge, its findings, challenges and what its final report could contain. Strong emphasized that while the committee aims to recommend priority conservation land, it does not aim to condemn the land. He added the members hope their report will allow anyone to review and assess their findings. 

But, Strong added, he believed the group would need until mid-September to complete its work. Additionally, he said it might be advisable for them to work with the planning commission to ensure the spaces they prioritize for conservation aren’t already protected under other regulations. 

“We’re kind of thinking we only have a certain number of chips we can lay on the table,” he said. “If we’re suggesting a bunch of areas to be conserved that are wetlands or really steep slopes or in the 100-year floodplain, we don’t necessarily want to use those to say ‘these are the ones that should be protected’ if they’re already protected through regulations.”

Council Chair Helen Riehle wondered if that would mean their work would take longer than mid-September. She said that in the past conservation recommendations haven’t always been translated into policy, adding continuing their efforts in collaboration with the planning commission might help the committee see its work implemented. 

Councilor Thomas Chittenden wondered if the Open Space Committee’s report could be completed even without an interim zoning extension. But Strong said without interim zoning some of the parcels they’d suggest for conservation could end up going before the Development Review Board before their recommendation was finalized. 

As for calming residents’ concerns about the pace and scale of development, Strong told The Other Paper his committee’s work doesn’t directly do that. 

“The work of the Open Space Committee is probably not easing residents’ concerns about development as much as changes to the PUD guidelines, the LDRs [Land Development Regulations] and the Natural Resource Protections,” he wrote in an email. “I think our work will help guide efforts in protecting valuable natural resources, but I think people realize that we can’t ‘save’ everything.” 

TDR Interim Zoning Committee

The TDR interim Zoning Committee Chair Michael Mittag offered his groups’ insights on the TDR program and its effect on conservation. The group was tasked with examining balance of natural and developed space around South Burlington.  

TDRs essentially allow a land owner to sell the development rights to their land in what’s called a “sending area.” Then developers can buy those rights and develop with greater density in another area of the city designated as a TDR “receiving area.” Receiving areas are better suited for higher density development.

Currently, landowners in the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ) can participate in the TDR program. But the TDR interim zoning committee recommended that additional receiving areas be created in the Transit Overlay District. The Transit Overlay District generally consists of places within ¼ mile of public transportation, Conner said. This includes Shelburne Road, Williston Road, Kennedy Drive, Dorset Street, part of Technology Park and other locales. The committee also suggested adding additional TDR sending areas (places to sell development rights and conserve land) in the SEQ, as well as in “high priority” conservation land identified by the planning commission and open space committee. Likewise, it examined re-designating sensitive areas of the Southeast Quadrant that were not deemed “highest priority” for conservation. These, the group said, could be developed but not with the additional density granted under TDR receiving. 

“The two main things are: Expand the receiving [developed] areas outside the SEQ and add new sending [conserved] areas in and outside the SEQ,” Mittag said. The recommendations address residents’ concerns about pace and scale of development by identifying where receiving areas should not be, for example: a wetland corridor, he said.

“The idea is, yes, let’s make sure holders of TDRs also have the place and a way to sell them if they want to,” Mittag said. “But at the same time try not to overdevelop the Southeast Quadrant which is where we have just about the only open space we have.”

As for an extension, he said his group would need more time to complete its work. 

“We definitely think there’s more time [needed],” Mittag said. “Depending on how many of our recommendations are accepted and then have to be acted upon it will be many months of work to draft new LDRs or amended LDRs, which would be the consequence of accepting our recommendations.”

Planning Commission 

Planning Commission on PUDs/Subdivision Master Plans Chair Jessica Louisos said her group will likely need until the end of the year to complete its work on Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), new subdivision and master plan. 

The group has been crafting four PUD types for the city. It has chipped away at about 100 items under the category “subdivision,” among other projects. Part of their effort also includes “tidying up” Land Development Regulations (LDRs) so that as new regulations are implemented, they don’t conflict with existing ones, Louisos said. Plus, they’ll have the interim zoning committees’ suggestions to consider. 

The four PUD types include traditional neighborhoods, commercial neighborhoods, campus and conservation. They set a framework for development on parcels greater than 4-acres in size, shaping how South Burlington’s future development will take place. According to Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner, the types establish a mix of development with open space requirements incorporated in the design. The regulations place greater emphasis on conservation from the development’s outset.

Ultimately, the project promotes creativity in design while offering predictability for the project’s scale and appearance, Conner said. 

Additionally, the planning commission will have to weigh suggestions from the other interim zoning committees. 

Councilor David Kaufman said the three-month extension is necessary.

“Everybody has been working really hard and so I think no doubt no question we extend it,” he said. “And if everybody continues to work hard then maybe we won’t go three months.”

While Councilor Thomas  Chittenden said he was impressed with the committees’ work, he stuck to his original position against Interim Zoning.

“I didn’t support interim zoning then, I’m not going to support it now, I still just don’t think it’s a necessary tool to accomplish these tasks but you don’t need my vote, you’ve got the votes, so you’re going to extend on Friday.”

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