Planning Commission reviews proposed Form-Based Zoning document

By Carol Casey
At a special meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 5, the Planning Commission reviewed the latest draft of the proposed Form-Based Zoning document. Commission Chair Kate Lalley opened the discussion by quoting the original objectives of this exercise:
“Whatever direction [zoning] takes, it should ultimately be simple, graphic, objective, easy to use and understand, and produce buildings that add to the greater beauty of Shelburne.”
She noted that this was no small order, and work on achieving the objectives has been underway since June 2010 when the Planning Commission and the Selectboard searched for ways to encourage reinvestment in vacant properties along Shelburne Road. The Selectboard set as goals:
Bringing a recognizable Shelburne identity to the corridor;
Fostering a sense of place and community;
Overcoming obstacles to redeveloping vacant and outmoded properties;
Encouraging economic and community investment;
Safeguarding the lake front from environmental hazards;
Supporting the creation and expansion of local businesses;
Streamlining the local permit process;
Enhancing walkability and quality of life in surrounding neighborhoods.
With a grant from the American Institute of Architects, a Sustainable Development and Design Team held an open meeting that attracted some 150 Shelburnites, asking for input on the redevelopment of Route 7, did an inventory of properties on the corridor, and produced the “Vision for 7” report. The report found that the existing zoning requirements might not produce the desired outcomes and indeed could have a negative impact, and recommended updating the regulations by adopting a Form-Based Code. The next step was a design charrette held in February 2013 to develop an illustrative master plan and begin work on developing a new zoning overlay map known as a regulating plan and a proposed Form-Based Code. Most of the funding for the project was provided by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. Consultants Jim Donovan, Ted Brovitz, and Peter Flinker were all present at the Aug. 5 meeting. The consultants made an initial report on the Form-Based Code in June 2014 and revised some of the proposed code based on comments they received. The current proposal includes more graphics to illustrate what will be permitted and made some adjustments concerning setbacks in the Green Corridor, building heights, massing, building elements, and street standards.
Brovitz presented sections 1.6 through 1.8. Section 1.6 sets site development standards, including parking, landscaping, lighting, stormwater management, energy efficiency standards, local food production space, and signage. Section 1.7 defines the administrative procedures designed to create a more efficient process and allowing some variations from the code based on “architectural merit, hardship, or other extenuating circumstances when the resulting design will further the specific intent and purposes of the Form-Based Zoning regulations” as determined by the DRB.
Lalley suggested that development would be spotty if some property owners used the new code while others followed the existing code, raising the question as to whether the Form based code should be mandatory for all.  She labeled the existing code as reactive, designed to prevent what Shelburne doesn’t want, compared to the Form-Based Code which is proactive, providing incentives for what Shelburne does want.
Former Planning Chair David Precourt opined that if this became the sole code then all properties currently along Route 7 would become non-conforming, tying the hands of owners who might want to make changes on their properties. Brovitz said the consultants would run various scenarios to see what options owners would have under the new code versus the existing code. Audience members suggested the Sirloin Saloon, Shelburne Commons, Rice Lumber, and the Red Apple Motel properties might serve well as illustrative examples.
Commissioners Burks and Hogan advocated keeping Form-Based Code as an option. Burks said the new code should be tested in practice before wider application, and Hogan advocated freedom of choice for property owners. She added however that she might favor having certain standards, such as stormwater management, streetscapes, and parking, universally applied.
Precourt also noted that the proposed code increases allowable density in the area.  Brovitz agreed, but added that the streetscape and open space standards required would alleviate the impact of higher density and that the stormwater management requirements in effect would set further limits on density.
Brovitz and Donovan encouraged those in attendance and other members of the Shelburne community to submit their comments on the draft code to them or Dean Pierce in the next few weeks, so that those comments could be incorporated into the next draft. A copy of the proposal may be found on the Shelburne Town website.  At present, the consultants are planning to present the revised draft at an open public meeting with DRB on Sept. 17.
The Planning Commission then voted to ratify a letter prepared by Lalley and Commissioner Heins to the Public Service Board upon the request of the Planning Commission concerning the interpretation of the terms “good cause” and “substantial deference” in the new State telecommunications law.
Lalley reported that she and Dean Pierce would be meeting soon with Professor Oughstan of UVM concerning the ideal telecommunications siting mapping project.
The next meeting of the Planning Commission is Thursday, Sept. 11 at 7pm in the Municipal Center.

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