Interim Zoning Expires: Motion for Public Hearing on IZ Extension Fails in 3-2 Vote

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Thursday February 06, 2014

When Interim Zoning was enacted by the City of South Burlington in 2012, the main objective was to take a two year pause in the planning process for the city. The council at the time was concerned about the rate of development occurring within the city, coupled with the lack of affordable housing, mainly brought on by the demolition of homes near the airport. Four volunteer committees were developed in the areas of form based code, affordable housing, open space/natural resources, and sustainable agriculture/food security task force. Each of these committees hired a consultant and over the past two years had been compiling reports and recommendations for the Planning Commission to consider. 

With interim zoning set to expire on February 22, 2014, the council had a conversation on Monday night, February 3 to determine if they should hold a public hearing to discuss extending interim zoning. Legally, the council had the option of extending IZ for up to 12 months from the February 22 date, so long as a public hearing was held first. In order to meet this deadline though, the hearing would have had to be warned in the paper on February 6. 

Rosanne Greco pointed out that the objective of the discussion was to determine if the council wanted to hold a public hearing on whether or not to extend interim zoning, not whether or not they thought IZ was a good idea.  “I can’t imagine how any time listening to our constituents would be time poorly spent” Greco said. 

Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw expressed that they were against extending interim zoning and were also opposed to holding a public hearing on the matter. Both councilors cited strain on staff time as reasons for adhering to a strict deadline for ending interim zoning. Shaw said, “I’m not in favor of re-enacting it (IZ). We have really good recommendations (from the committees)…I don’t want to lose any of it, but I don’t want to keep dragging it out (IZ) and burdening staff.”  

Helen Riehle and Rosanne Greco were in favor of extending interim zoning until all of the committees had their final reports into the planning commission. “The work that resulted from taking a two year pause to plan is invaluable,” Greco said, “To extend IZ until the planning is complete is just common sense.” Riehle agreed and said it would make sense to extend IZ until all recommendations had been vetted, accepted, or rejected. “It just seems logical to finish and understand and either act or not on all the work the committees have done,” Riehle said. 

John Simson, Chair of the affordable housing committee spoke out against extending IZ. “In terms of our planning now, the emergency is over,” Simson said, “things are moving forward…there’s no need to keep the training wheels on. The community deserves to be told we’re getting back to business as usual.” Local developer, Eric Farrell echoed this sentiment explaining that interim zoning has caused his business a fair amount of confusion. “I don’t want to have a public hearing about it and I’m against extending it,” Farrell said. 

Residents Meaghan Emery and Tracey Harrington, who are candidates for city council, both spoke in favor of holding the hearing. “I think it’s this body’s role to listen to what the citizens say. I’m in full support of listening and in full support of a motion warning this public hearing,” Harrington said. 

Mike Simoneau, chair of the form based code committee and a candidate for city council, said he didn’t think the public hearing was warranted or necessary. He explained that people who are passionate about issues are the individuals who show up at meetings and they are not necessarily representative of the majority city opinion on a matter. Therefore, the council should not make a decision on IZ based upon who shows up on a particular night to voice their views. 

Greco said, “Often, all you can go on is who shows up…look at the polls.” 

Rosanne Greco made the motion to warn a public hearing on interim zoning for February 21, 2014, Helen Riehle seconded. The motion was defeated in a 3-2 vote with Mackenzie, Shaw and Nowak opposing. 

City Manager Kevin Dorn said that despite interim zoning’s expiration, the work of the committees will continue. 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent