Three out of the four IZ Committees have new chairs. There are varying levels of progress; some committees are near completion and others have more work to execute.

IZ Committees Update Council on Progress

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Thursday April 04, 2013

The four interim zoning committees, affordable housing, open space, sustainable agriculture and food security task force, and form based codes, have been working diligently over the past months to define their missions and work with consultants to gain more insight into the committees’ respective focal points. At Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting, each committee had the opportunity to provide an update as to where they are and where they are headed.

Councilor Rosanne Greco, who is the only member of the City Council remaining who was present when the committees were formed, offered a brief history as introduction. She said at the February 2, 2012 meeting, former Councilor Jim Knapp brought forth an idea in regular session. He suggested developing an affordable housing committee and requested that he be the chair. His work began as he assembled a solid team of local experts and began reporting to the Council on their work. When he could no longer continue his responsibilities as chair, former Councilor Sandy Dooley took over. Greco began thinking about additional committees that could be formed to focus on various other issues of concern in South Burlington. The result was the development of the sustainable agriculture and food security task force. She reached out to many local organizations who gave her recommendations as to who should comprise her task force. The form based codes committee was spearheaded by Paul Engels, and Helen Riehle took charge of the open spaces committee. A member of the public suggested that Councilors chair the committees and that is how the appointments came into being.

On Tuesday, the new chair of the affordable housing committee, John Simson came forward to give some facts and findings. One of the most troubling statistics discovered through their work was that 2,800 households in South Burlington pay 30% of their income toward housing and 1,000 spend more than 50%. It became evident fairly quickly that this was an issue the committee was going to try to tackle. Thus far, their recommendations include identifying and developing changes to the LDRs, which would involve altering language for housing specifications. Examples include providing incentives for building accessory units and preserving the affordable housing that is currently available. The committee would like to set a 10 year plan in motion to target additional housing units and designate City Center as an affordable housing area. In order to carry out these studies, forming a permanent committee on these matters was suggested. A questionnaire has been devised by the committee (which was tested on a group of individuals at their forum on March 27) and after the results are compiled, those will be added to a body of documents and presented to the planning commission for review.

Next, the new chair of the form based codes committee, Mike Simoneau, presented. Former Councilor Paul Engels was responsible for putting this committee together. This committee has benefited from the consultation services of Paul Dreher as well as the Project for Public Spaces. Simoneau explained that the focus of the form based codes committee is to create a sense of place as a focal point.  “The forms of the buildings that you will eventually find in city center will be those that can best serve and accommodate the functions that we want to see occurring in the different parts of the city,” he said.The planning of urban spaces and integrating pedestrian and bike access has been paramount to the conversation. The committee would not be surprised if they needed to invest additional time into working with land owners and the neighborhoods to explain what is happening in terms of the codes. “We want the code to serve the community,” Simoneau explained.

The chair of the open spaces committee could not be at Tuesday’s meeting; therefore, vice-chair Laurel Williams gave the committee’s presentation. Williams noted that the open spaces committee is a couple of months behind the others since they have been working without a consultant. Currently, they do have a draft proposal in hand from a consultant. They meet twice a month and have been developing their vision by identifying beneficial features of open space, funding, a timeline and coordinating with other committees such as recreation and leisure arts. By the end of June, they will have something to bring to the Council. Their goals revolve around environmental stewardship and advocating for open space, parks and pocket parks in urban areas. “We don’t want to neglect those spaces, since once they’re gone, they don’t come back,” Williams said. 

The new chair of the sustainable agriculture and food security task force, Vince Bolduc, began by thanking Councilor Rosanne Greco, without whom the committee would not have come into existence. He re-iterated the mission of the committee, which is to transform South Burlington into a city that can provide its residents with healthy, local, organic affordable food. The final version of the report from their consultant was received the day before this meeting and totaled 126 pages; therefore, the committee had not met or had a chance to review it in its entirety prior to Tuesday’s meeting.  This committee has held public forums and surveyed public opinion. Along with their consultant, the committee has been seeking answers to questions such as, “What are our existing resources?” and “What action would be necessary to feed 17,000 people?” A highlight of the report is the soil maps, which show that there are 30 different types of soil in South Burlington. Some soils belong to the City, some are private and others are on University property; each with their own sets of rights.  They would like to explore further whether new farmers would be interested in moving here. Of the farmers who gave input at their meetings, the testimony was sobering in terms of how much they struggle with their profit margins. However, they did find that even a small amount of soil, such as a 20 x 20 garden, can grow an ample amount of vegetables for a family. To date, the committee has many recommendations. These include promoting home gardening through education and outreach, having a year-round farmers market, and introducing more farm language into the LDRs. After the task force reads and meets about the report, they will discuss the next steps and gather reactions from farmers, large land owners and other stakeholders.

As the committees wrap up their work, they will present their recommendations to the planning commission, who will in turn report to the City Council. In the meantime, updates are always available via the Path to Sustainability website:

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent