by Phil Dodd
MONTPELIER — The proposed new zoning ordinance is now posted online and will be the subject of a public hearing before the Planning Commission on Monday, Jan. 9 at 5:30 p.m. Links to both the current and proposed zoning, including maps, can be found at: http://montpelier-vt.org/822/Zoning-and-Subdivision-Regulations.
The planning commission will also accept written comments on the proposed zoning through Jan. 9. Emailed comments should be sent to Planning Director Mike Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the hearing, the commission is expected to consider making additional changes to the draft and then will send it to the city council, which will hold at least two public hearings before taking a final vote on the new ordinance.
The draft, several years in the making, amounts to a complete overhaul of the city’s zoning and contains major changes to the zoning rules as they will apply to neighborhoods throughout Montpelier.
Some aspects of the proposed zoning have been controversial, such as an earlier draft’s expansion of design review boundaries and a proposed extension of commercial uses into residential areas like St. Paul Street, but both of these sections were altered in response to citizen feedback.
Miller said he believes the draft “is a much better set of zoning bylaws than what we have today.” He praised the zoning process, but added that the draft “is not a perfect product, and we will continue to make improvements in the future.”
Kim Cheney, chair of the planning commission, said of the new zoning: “The goals that were set out were met. We tried to create clarity and eliminate any complexity that impedes development.”
On the subject of the increased density called for in the draft zoning, which is designed to encourage more housing and reduce nonconformity, Cheney said he thought any resulting changes to Montpelier would be gradual. The idea that the zoning changes will overcome the state’s flat population and bring a lot of new people into Montpelier anytime soon is unlikely, he believes.
“Personally, I am glad to see Montpelier is attracting young people and we have more kids in the lower grades,” he said.
“But unless gas hits $6 a gallon” and makes it uneconomic to live in the country, some people are going to be dissuaded from living here by Montpelier’s relatively high property taxes and real estate values, as well as by the city’s sprinkler requirement for all new homes, he said.
Increased density has been one of the topics that received attention from residents who have followed the zoning process. At least three neighborhoods were able to have density reduced from what had originally been proposed for their neighborhoods: Berlin Street, College Street/Sabin Street and Towne Hill Road.
All parts of town will see more density under the new zoning, however. For example, Pearl Street in the Meadow will change from Medium Density Residential to the Residential 3000 district. The minimum lot size will drop from 10,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet, the housing density will drop from one dwelling unit per 10,000 square feet to one per 3,000 square feet, and maximum lot coverage will increase from 33 percent to 60 percent. Minimum side setbacks are reduced from 10 feet to 5 feet, and rear setbacks from 30 feet to 10 feet.
In the Nov. 17 Bridge, we covered several other aspects of the proposed zoning, in addition to density, such as the new mixed use residential district and the status of design review boundaries. Here are a few other zoning changes of note:
• 30 percent slopes Development is not allowed on slopes greater than 30 percent, and in some of the less dense residential districts, property on such slopes cannot be used in calculating the number of units allowed. The city website currently has a rough map showing where the 30 percent slopes are located in town, but a better map — based on new state data — will be posted before Jan. 9, according to Miller.
• Natural Resources map The zoning includes a Natural Resources map prepared by the Conservation Commission, also available online, that indicates areas such as vernal pools and wetlands where development cannot take place. Another map prepared by the Conservation Commission, showing conservation land and trails, was dropped by the Planning Commission after it received legal advice that the Conservation Map was not scientifically based.
• Planned Unit Developments The new zoning would create several new options for developers under the title of Planned Unit Developments: Infill Housing, Cottage Cluster, Manufactured Home Park, New Neighborhood Development, Conservation Subdivision and Campus Development. Each of these developments has its own requirements, and some of them offer significant density bonuses of 25 percent to 50 percent above the base zoning if certain criteria are met, such as energy-efficiency, small size and affordability.
• Sabin’s Pasture Sabin’s Pasture is being zoned as Residential 6,000, which could theoretically allow nearly twice as many units as the approximately 400 currently allowed, and the zoning will no longer will have a denser district along Barre Street than higher up the hill. Under the new zoning, development of 40 or more units on a parcel of 10 acres or more will have to comply with the New Neighborhood Planned Unit Development that promotes clustering. This requires keeping 5 percent of the parcel open, or any portion identified on a future city “Official Map” (which designates possible parks and other municipal uses), up to 40 percent of a parcel. The elimination of the Conservation Map meant that a provision to keep open up to 40 percent of New Neighborhood planned unit development land that was identified as conservation land was dropped.
• Parking requirements Developers in the Urban Center 1 district downtown will no longer have to provide parking for new developments. In most of the rest of the city, according to Miller, the parking requirement is being reduced to one parking space per new unit (today it is 1.5 spaces per unit, rounded up so that a single unit has to have two spaces). No new parking is required in Infill developments, which would be allowed in many districts, if it provides senior or affordable housing.
• Main Street Originally, the stretch of Main Street from the library to the roundabout that includes many older historic buildings was to be in the same Urban Center district as downtown, but at an earlier public hearing, former mayor Mary Hooper and former Planning Commission chair Steve Sease suggested it should be covered by a less dense district, similar to the current Central Business-II. The Planning Commission has now come up with a new district called Urban Center 2 that covers this area, plus part of Barre Street. However, it is considerably denser than the current CB-II. The building height limit is raised from 45 feet to 60 feet, the minimum lot size is reduced from 10,000 square feet to 3,000 square feet and maximum lot coverage is increased from 50 percent to 90 percent, among other things.