Endorsing Change on Route 7: Why different zoning in Route 7 will capture value

By Kate Lalley

On Nov. 6, voters will be asked if the Town should spend funds to develop new zoning in the Route 7 corridor. Changing the zoning may be the single best way the Town can make the Route 7 corridor more financially productive and bring re-investment and revitalization to its largest commercial tax base.

Zoning is an important tool that communities use to guide the location of development. In spite of a great deal of public scrutiny and costly presentations by applicants, zoning of development in commercial Route 7 hasn’t resulted in many great looking outcomes on the ground. Changing to a different zoning approach, known as Form-based Code (FBC), will allow us to proactively use land use regulation to achieve a more desirable pattern of development and harness some of the forces that generate economic value and resilience.

Shelburne Village is an example of a place with great built-in value and productivity that is a magnet for all kinds of investment. With distressed properties that are not enticing much investment, northern Route 7 is perhaps the opposite of the Village, a place to which no one feels much attachment.  The overall poor aesthetic impression of this area is reflected by a relative lower value per acre of commercial land from the LaPlatte Bridge to the South Burlington border compared to similar land in the Village Center.  Even so, because of its far greater area the Route 7 corridor still provides nearly seven times the property taxes as the Village core. The positive impact on our tax revenue with marginal gains in added economic value in the corridor would be significant.

The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Project found that communities can generate economic prosperity by creating places that people care about. According to the study, places that attract people offer three fundamental things: chances for social interaction, openness and access, and good aesthetics. These come together and create a galvanizing force that adjacent properties react well to. For example, a restaurant might engage public space by extending an awning to add an outdoor eating area. The neighboring business might add a window to sell creemees. A larger example of the value a public space can generate in a place is the weekly farmers market that is held on our town green.

The point is that our Village, with its actively used public spaces and public and business venues encourages people to interact casually and collaboratively, is a resilient collective of such places.  Despite the economic downturn, business in the Village has generally thrived. What if we could do this on Route 7, too?

FBC is a tool that can be used to create such “special places” on commercial Route 7. Although a seemingly ad hoc and disjointed pattern of development currently gives the corridor a general impression of “placelessness” that does not identify this area as recognizably Shelburne, property owners in Route 7 have a big appetite for more and better development options for their properties. In April 2012, a catalytic “demonstration project” by architect Bill Dennis showed how Bay Road could be redeveloped as northern “entry gate” to the town and a connection to the town’s scenic and tourism assets. Property owners who participated in the exercise were impressed by what could happen under different zoning.

Regulating the form of what we build and locating development where it makes strategic and logical sense will produce better development patterns in Route 7 and create places that generate value. This will make the entire corridor more financially productive. We all stand to gain by investing in the proactive planning that can add value to our community’s largest tax base.

Please vote on this important issue on Nov. 6. The town has selected a consultant team with deep Vermont roots to lead the Shelburne community to a future vision for this area and craft new land use regulations that will be bring this plan into effect. Find out more about Vision for 7 and endorse the project at www.Shelburnevt.org  (by clicking on A Vision for 7) and Visionfor7.blogspot.com.

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