The planning commission is hosting a public hearing on Tuesday,  Aug. 13, at 7 p.m. at city hall regarding proposed amendments to the city’s Land Development Regulations.

The planning commission, which consists of seven South Burlington citizens appointed by the city council, is charged with overseeing revisions to the Land Development Regulations (LDRs) as well as undertaking planning studies and updating the Comprehensive Plan.

When considering proposed amendments, the planning commission has had to examine whether they meet the goals and objectives of South Burlington’s Comprehensive Plan, a framework and guide for meeting the city’s goals and objectives around future growth, development, conservation of land, public facilities and services as well as environmental protection. This plan is updated every five years and presents a vision of how the city wants to evolve in the coming 20 years. It is the product of extensive input from the public, city officials, the school district, city committees and other reports and studies. 

The LDRs are amended one to two times a year to stay the course on fulfilling the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan.

Proposed amendments

As written, these are the following proposed amendments:

A. LDR-19-01: Eliminate minimum parking requirements for all uses citywide except multi-family housing and accessory dwelling units, for which parking requirements are to be reduced. 

B. LDR-19-02: Amend transfer of development rights requirements to be consistent with enabling statutes.

C. LDR-19-03: Establish Citywide River Corridor Overlay District and make minor modifications to the Flood Plain Overlay District. 

D. LDR-19-04: Eliminate duplicative surface water protection standards for land within 150 feet of Lake Champlain and allowances for expansion of pre-existing structures within 100 feet of Potash Brook within Queen City Park Zoning District. 

E. LDR-19-05: Administrative Amendments: Authorize Administrative Officer to approve minor field changes to site plans & allow for a joint administrative approval & zoning permit; minor technical corrections. 

F. LDR-19-06: Modify table of open space types (Appendix F) and applicability in the City Center Form Based Code District.

Minimum Parking

The first amendment asks to eliminate minimum parking standards for all uses citywide except multi-family residential uses and accessory apartments, which would have reduced minimum requirements. Having parking minimums has presented some issues for property owners and business owners, and ultimately has “more negatives than positives,” as described by South Burlington Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner to the commission at last Tuesday’s meeting.

For example, last year, Parkway Diner on Williston Road came before the DRB to propose an addition to the restaurant for safety reasons. However, in doing so, the addition required eliminating some parking spaces, which then put the business under the minimum parking requirement for the area. The DRB was able to waive up to 25 percent of the amount required, but the business was still under the requirement. A solution was eventually found.

Conversely, not having minimums could present another problem, explained Tim McKenzie, a landowner in the City Center Form Based Code District. What happens if one business, which doesn’t have enough parking, uses up the parking spaces of the business next door, he asked.

With no minimums, the businesses could sign an agreement to eliminate the problem, Conner proposed. Nonetheless, the commission is hoping to receive more public input to make changes to this proposed amendment as needed.

TDR language

The second amendment to the LDRs is a direct response to the Vermont Environmental Court decision received earlier this year regarding issues with the city’s Transfer Development Rights bylaw (TDR). That court decision was related to the Spear Meadows development project proposed on Spear Street in the Southeast Quadrant, but flaws in the TDR bylaw permeate other projects that require the use of them as well, which triggered the city having its attorney comb through the language to be consistent with state law.

The language amendment to the TDR bylaw is not intended to affect the function of the program, planning staff clarified. The bigger issue of revamping the bylaw from a policy standpoint is still being worked on by the Interim Zoning TDR Committee.

Citywide River Corridor Overlay District

The third proposed amendment would establish river corridor protection standards for all major watercourses and streams with watersheds greater than two acres in the city. 

This is intended to limit development in areas that are vulnerable to future hazards from natural shifts in the river corridors. The commission and planning department referred to guidelines from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Minor changes to the floodplain overlay district would allow for updated definitions as well as adding shelters, congregate care, skilled nursing, and assisted living facilities to the definition of critical facilities subject to the standards applicable to the 500-year floodplain. 

Duplicate surface water protection standards

There are currently surface water protection standards in the LDRs for land within 150 feet of Lake Champlain and allowances for expansion of pre-existing structures within 100 feet of Potash Brook within Queen City Park Zoning District. 

At the same, there are also statewide shoreland protection standards. By removing the redundancy in the city’s regulations, an applicant would only need to demonstrate that the project complies with the statewide standards before being issued a zoning permit.

Conner did point out that there are three homes that are within 100 feet of Potash Brook in the Queen City Park Zoning District, so they would be affected by the amendment. However, since they also have steep slopes, expansion would still be difficult to circumvent due to other existing regulations. 

Administrative Officer authority

Granting the administrative officer field changes to site plans upon inspection (if minor), allowing for a joint approval of an administrative site plan and zoning plan and some minor technical amendments are proposed to help streamline the administrative officer’s process.

All projects within the City Center Form Based Code District are reviewed administratively.

Table of open space types

While development is certainly abuzz in South Burlington, the city is also looking to preserve and create a variety of open spaces, even in the heart of the City Center Form Based Code District. This amendment would expand the list of qualifying open space types and applicability in that district.

With the help of the Natural Resources and Parks and Recreation Committees, the amendments introduce some new possible open space types, such as a dog park and play area and a snippet/parklet.

The planning commission will hold a public hearing to collect input, and then the city council will hold a public hearing for the proposed amendments. The council will ultimately decide whether or not to adopt these proposed amendments and update the current regulations.

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