After much deliberation, as well as some discord between the development review board and the planning commission, South Burlington City Councilors adopted a land development regulation that eliminates minimum parking standards citywide. The measure passed 3-2 with councilors Tim Barritt and Thomas Chittenden opposed.
The regulation is the culmination of two years’ worth of planning commission studies and deliberation. It eliminates minimum parking requirements for developers citywide – save for multi-dwelling units, where minimums will be reduced. Similar policies have been adopted in cities across the country like Buffalo, N.Y.; Dover, N.H.; and Belfast and Bath, Maine. According to the commission, the regulation does not do away with parking standards, but rather, allows developers to appropriately size lots for their establishments.
The city council tabled a vote on the regulation during its Sept. 16 meeting, following a lengthy conversation and a letter of opposition that was unanimously signed by development review board members. The review board’s letter said its members would rather see an increase in their waiver authority – for parking standards – and a revision of the standards that govern that power. They believed that if the council adopted the elimination of minimum parking standards, it would demonstrate it held one of two opinions: that either the public has no interest in the availability of parking for any particular development, or that the developer alone is the proper person to determine whether and to what extent that interest is protected.
On Monday night, councilors Barritt and Chittenden agreed they’d rather see a middle ground approach in which the review board had expanded waiver authority rather than eliminating minimums.
“I want to make sure that they [the development review board] have the right tools to make corrections,” Barritt said. “I don’t want them to lose the ability to make recommendations or say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ to developers when they make bad choices, because sometimes bad choices happen.”
He added that reducing impervious surfaces is a shared goal.
“We want less impervious surfaces, we want a better transportation model for the state, we want fewer cars on the road, we want better mass transit and we’re gonna get there,” Barritt said. “But you’ve got some older developments and some newer developments that are coming that are going to test the minimums and might have negative consequences.”
Review board member Matthew Cota agreed, noting his board wants to act as a second set of eyes, ensuring that parking is properly planned.
“No one’s pro-impervious here, we don’t want more pavement than needed,” Cota said. “But we do want to make sure that a developer doesn’t have to be bad or make a mistake.”
Review board member Frank Kochman read wording he and his fellow members drafted as a possible alternative to the elimination of minimum parking standards. It examined an expanded waiver authority for the review board with additional criteria for the board to consider before granting a waiver.
But according to Planning Commission Chair Jessica Louisos, those factors were previously considered and rejected during the commission’s two-years of deliberation. Increasing waiver authority decreases the predictability of land development, she said.
“We know change is hard … but just because this idea isn’t common, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad,” Louisos said. “There’s lots of research and evidence to show that it is a good idea.”
She added that the city hasn’t always had parking minimums. There was development completed around South Burlington before minimum parking standards took shape about 30 years ago.
Additionally, one of the four overarching goals in the city’s Comprehensive Plan is walkability, Louisos said.
“If we’re going to continue to have all of our regulations really focus on cars, we’re not going to get to that point of walkability,” she said.
Later, Chittenden discouraged the council from acting that night. He felt there was no time pressure to make a decision.
“We all want to do this right, we all want to get to the right place,” Chittenden said. “I think it makes a lot of sense to have the planning commission just consider what the [development review board] has put forward.”
Council Chair Helen Riehle contended that there was a time factor on the matter. She said the planning commission spent two years on the proposal and had already debated its potential issues within its commission.
“They have not considered it as an alternative package from Frank [Kochman], but all of the items, as I understand it, particularly the waivers, were debated and determined by the planning commission that that was not the way they wanted to go about [it],” she said.
Chittenden maintained that additional time would get the council to a better place, even if it reached the same conclusion.
The council then voted, passing the measure.