IZ Remains Undecided

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Thursday February 09, 2012

At a special meeting held February 2nd, the City Council voted 3-2 to carry the Interim Zoning discussion to an unnamed later date.  Councilors Jim Knapp and Meaghan Emery opposed the motion, after putting several motions on the table themselves.

At the well-attended, two-hour meeting, each Councilor traced his or her individual histories about how they had come to their stance on Interim Zoning (IZ).  The Council has been discussing IZ since last summer, and it has already been voted down once.  Since then, they have also warned and held several meetings regarding IZ.

In tracing her reasons for proposing the initial and supporting the follow-up conversations on IZ, Councilor Rosanne Greco outlined the City’s need for a time to step back and evaluate sustainable agriculture on a local, state, and national level.

“Right here in the Champlain Valley, we have the best agriculture soil in all of Vermont.  In fact, most of South Burlington sits on prime ag soil—which is the best growing soil that exists.  Experts predict that were we to use our land in VT to grow food, we could feed all Vermonters and more,” Greco explained. 

“Vermont lost one quarter of its farmland in the past thirty years,” she went on to say.   “If the current trend continues, by the year 2090, there will be no farmland left in Vermont. “

Councilor Emery traced her first interest in an IZ discussion to “a concern from residents over TDRs [as well as] density and where it should be, and public transportation.”

She pointed to issues brought up to her “that suggest the public was clamoring for clarity on our land development regulations.  I heard it enough that I thought it merited discussion.   I’ve come to know members of this community and what they do for development.  My thinking has definitely evolved over time,” Emery explained.  

Emery went on to introduce a motion to “Strike the bylaw and adopt IZ for City Center only.”  This motion was defeated 3-2.

Councilor Knapp spoke about the importance of affordable housing.  At meeting’s end, he introduced a motion to strike IZ entirely,  saying  “throughout this process I’ve always been viewed as the one who is against IZ, but that’s not quite right.   In my world, affordable housing is for low and very low-income Vermonters.”  Knapp’s motion to strike IZ was defeated in a 3-2 vote.

Council Chair Sandy Dooley, who claimed she was perhaps the Councilor with the longest-term residency in South Burlington at 40 years, explained her approach to IZ: “My perception, having lived here so long, is that there is a strong undercurrent of yearning for land development regulations that keep with our Comprehensive Plan—so that waivers don’t become the rules. I certainly want to respect the wishes of the Council but that’s where my 40 years of living here lead me,” she said.

During the course of the discussions, Councilor Paul Engels introduced a motion to table the IZ discussion. He explained his position on IZ by talking about the community as a whole, and of the city councilors as members of that community.  “Fundamentally our motives are that we all live in neighborhoods,” he said.  “We’re all feeling the pressure of development in our neighborhoods.  We appreciate the importance of economic development, but I think developers are beginning to feel a  little push back from how much we can stand here.”

Engels’ motion prompted a great deal of discussion amongst the Council and the public regarding the procedural meeting rules, but ultimately passed. The Council went on to discuss a possible Council-sponsored meeting of interested stakeholders to explore affordable housing opportunities in the City.

Councilor Knapp proposed a motion wherein he, despite the imminent end of his term, would head a committee to explore affordable housing options. “I would like this Council to formally undertake an agreement that the City will undertake a discussion with  [people such as] VHFA, VHCB, Merchants’ Bank, Northfield Savings Bank, residential developers, real estate agents, members of the community, and anyone else who’s interested in finding out what South Burlington can do and how we can do it.”

The Council passed the motion as well as voting to “empower Jim Knapp to lead the group.” Knapp believes the group could take anywhere between a few weeks to a few months to get organized. “I’ve worked with a lot of people, among those I mentioned. I want to have a real community discussion how to build houses in South Burlington that people can live in,” he said.

Once this motion carried, Councilor Greco expressed interest in heading a similar committee to look at sustainable agriculture, which the councilors discussed.   They will likely revisit this idea at a future meeting.  

“ I hate to see the divisive effect that [IZ] is having on the community,” Councilor Engels remarked.  “It just kills me.  I like Jim’s idea of bringing the community together and having a discussion about this. Let’s take a step back and see if we can bring our community together.”

Engels further pointed to the work of City Staff around IZ. “[Director of Zoning] Paul Connor deserves a Nobel prize for the work he’s done,” he said, to a round of applause from the public.

SOURCE: Annalisa Parent, Correspondent