Land development code update

Lately, I’ve been attending many meetings about the land development code update – so many meetings, in fact, that blogging about land development is about the last thing I feel like doing when I get home (especially when my green roof project is much more fun).   Just in case you haven’t read it yet, the land development code draft is available on the city website and the “satellite” website for the land development code and YOUR comments is up and running and you can find the  the draft zoning map and notices of meetings and updates on the process there, too.

According to the timeline the City Council adopted, city boards and commissions were to submit their comments to the Planning Commission by July 31...and it’s August now and the EQC, EDA, HRA, and PRAB have all been busy (the EDA had a special meeting just today) although I don’t know if official comments have been turned in.    The Planning Commission has also been reviewing the draft regulations and, as they did with the Comp Plan, holding extra work sessions, attending other board and commission meetings and generally doing more than what Planning Commission members are expected to do.  If you see a PC member, give him or her a pat on the back or better yet.

But let’s take a step back and remember what we’re supposed to be doing.

1. Comprehensive Plan: The Council adopted a new Comprehensive Plan in 2008 after a big kickoff at the Armory and a couple years of work by the Planning Commission.  Northfield’s Charter requires that we adopt no ordinance in conflict with the Comp Plan – so that’s one indication of the importance this plan should have.   The Comp Plan’s main role is to capture the city’s vision for its future in order to guide the writing of our “official controls.”   In other words, the Comp Plan is not just a pretty picture of Northfield, but is the foundation for what we regulate and how we do it so we actually get development which matches the pretty picture.  The Comp Plan guides, the land development code regulates.  So, any attempt to draft land use ordinances not only cannot (by Charter) conflict with the Comp Plan, but should also result in regulations which make the Comp Plan happen.

2. Comp plan in brief: The best summary of the Comp Plan is the 12 Land Use principles which guided the writing of the Plan.   You can read the Goals, objectives and strategies which came from these principles in the Implementation chapter of the Comp Plan.

3. From plan to ordinance: Unfortunately, the draft has homed in on “enhance small town character” -a statement so general as to be almost vacuous from a regulatory point of view-and to use the example of our commercial zoning districts-has flattened “enhance small town character” into “make more stuff look like Division Street” by expanding regulations which currently apply only in the heart of downtown to west of Highway 3 and south.    The draft regulations do not yet do much to consider the other principles which seek to prioritize infill and redevelopment, make development more sustainable/environmentally conscious, and create better pedestrian and bicycle connections (and to do all this in ways which are achievable and sustainable in economic terms).

4. The problem as I see it: I have heard, repeatedly, that this code is supposed to tell developers “what Northfield wants.”     So far, though, the draft regulations make pretty timid statements about what “Northfield wants.”   When I read some cities’ regulations, it really is clear what that city wants (see Burlington, VT or the Arlington, VA Columbia Pike Revitalization Project if you like to read land use codes).  I’m proud of the Council for including broad input from city boards and commissions, the NDDC, local builders, and the Chamber as part of the review process despite city staff’s recommendation not to do so.  These groups are asking invaluable questions, making excellent suggestions  and helping frame “what Northfield wants.”   The Planning Commission has much work to do this Fall and I’m counting on them to bring the draft code much closer to stating what Northfield wants as well as flag those policy issues which the Council needs to decide.

6. So, what next? You can get a peek at the regulations on August 18 @ the Armory.    You can always watch the sausage being made at any of the meetings listed on the land development code website.  Or comment here or on the land development code website.

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