Land development developments

CompPlanCoverOh my have I been busy with the draft of the land development code…I attended at least 6 meetings focused on the regulations this past week with many more to come.  You can look at the draft regulations, make comments, read others’ comments and find out who’s meeting to discuss the code here.

I am still not convinced the city knows what sort of development it wants to happen (or where it wants it to happen), nor how and to what extent it would like to regulate development.   To be fair, it is no small task to get from a Big Picture Comprehensive Plan to the minutiae of ordinance language.  If you want to know how to do it, read on.  If you just want the pretty picture, well, wait a few months and see what comes out the other end of the process.

Review: The 2008 Comprehensive Plan is the basis for the land development regulations.   The 2008 Comprehensive Plan (adopted by the City Council in November 2008) established Northfield’s goals and objectives for future development.  But a Comp Plan only guides development; it is not a land use control – ordinances are official controls.   So, Northfield must adopt a new land use ordinance to implement the Comp Plan’s goals.

Comp Plan in a nutshell: 12 Land Use Principles which guided the development of the Comp Plan:

1. The small town character will be enhanced.

2. The natural environment will be protected, enhanced and better integrated into the community.

3. The preference for accommodating future growth is in infill locations, then redevelopment/land intensification opportunities, and then on the edge of existing developed areas.

4. New and redeveloped residential communities (areas) will have strong neighborhood qualities.

5. Environmentally-sensitive and sustainable practices will be integrated into new developments and redeveloped areas.

6. Places with a mix of uses that are distinctive and contribute to increasing the city’s overall vitality are preferred.

7. Neighborhood-serving commercial will be small scale and integrated with the residential context.

8. A wider range of housing choices will be encouraged – in the community as well as in neighborhoods.

9. Rural character of certain areas of the community will be protected.

10. Streets will create an attractive public realm and be exceptional places for people.

11. Places will be better connected, in part to improve the function of the street network and also to better serve neighborhoods.

12. Opportunities will be created to walk and bike throughout the community.

and the Comp Plan’s land use goal: An efficient use of land resources that emphasizes strategic development, redevelopment, and land intensification, preserves environmentally significant areas and agricultural resources, preserves a strong and vibrant downtown, preserves of a sense of place, and promotes sustainable planning practices.

So now we need to write development regulations which will require or encourage (that’s 1 issue) land development which promotes small-towniness and pedestrian friendliness in an environmentally sustainable way.

Land development codes (can) regulate

  • uses: What sort of activity is allowed a particular piece of land?  Typical uses are residential (subdivided by the type of structure – single family, two-family, multi-family), commercial (retail, offices of various sorts, service businesses…this can be broken up into a near infinite array of possible uses as well as by size), industrial, and “mixed use” (of which more later).
  • physical form: This includes lot sizes (length, width and area), setbacks and build-to lines (regulating where on a lot a building is situated), building size (area, height, number of floors, etc.), building orientation (parallel to street, requiring buildings on the Cannon River to have “front” facades on both the street and river side), relation to other buildings (principal vs. accessory structures, relative size and shape)
  • appearance: architectural features (windows, materials, roof pitch, and much much more), landscaping, screening undesirable features
  • connectivity: parking, street design/width, sidewalks or not, bike parking, trails
  • location: where in Northfield can homes be built?  large retail?  industrial facilities?
  • review process: who decides whether you can build that addition on your home, new residential subdivision, franchise on Highway 3 or new building in the downtown historic district?  Can you put a medical clinic there?  What about a veterinary clinic?  And what procedural steps are required?

It shouldn’t be too hard to see that translating “small town” (for example) into these categories is not particularly intuitive.  Add in other interests such as promoting economic development, transportation improvements and parks and the task becomes even more difficult.  So let’s tackle these things one or two at a time…

Stay tuned for location and the zoning map…

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