Marching ever closer to the two-year mark, South Burlington’s interim zoning bylaw was again extended, this time until Sept. 22.
City Councilors unanimously approved the measure during their June 15 meeting.
“I think everybody will be understanding that this wasn’t our original intent many months ago, but we didn’t know COVID-19 was coming either,” Councilor Dave Kaufman said. “We’re hardly the only ones who have missed a few steps along the way here.”
Interim zoning took effect in November 2018, tapping the brakes on land development — with some exceptions — for nine months, with the option to renew in three-month increments for up to two years.
The bylaw was inspired in part by community concerns about the pace and scale of development and what people believed might be a misalignment between the city’s overall plan for its future and land use regulations.
One area of concern was the South East Quadrant – historically agricultural land with views of the Green Mountains.
The pause on development was meant to allow time for city committees to take stock of South Burlington’s remaining open land, prioritizing conservation land, drafting proposed amendments to Land Development Regulations and studying the city’s planned unit developments and master plan.
Staff work on the Land Development Regulations and other proposals continues but Planning Commission and community input have been paused since the onset of COVID-19 in March.
One advantage of the slowdown is that the planning department has had more time to take stock of planning commission and public input from previous meetings, Chair Helen Riehle said.
South Burlington Land Trust President Sarah Dopp, who attended the virtual meeting, said the Land Trust favored extending interim zoning as moved during the June 15 meeting.
“It’s terribly important that we are actually able to create some zoning regulations that support some of the findings that have been uncovered during interim zoning,” Dopp said.
Planning Commission member Michael Mittag, also in attendance, said it would give the committees a “fighting chance” to complete their work.
Councilor Thomas Chittenden has, in the past, voted against the interim zoning bylaw, but said he would support the extension due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the timeline.
He did ask Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner if the work would be complete in September or if November was more likely.
“We have been working to get a first draft of various pieces of the documents out,” Conner said. “I think the question is going to come down, honestly, to what extent is there agreement, disagreement, need for refinement or review.”
A September completion is possible, but optimistic, he said.
Interim Zoning has elicited mixed opinions - those who say it is a necessary measure to pause development, learn about South Burlington’s remaining open spaces, and prioritize conservation and who believe that the pause on development has, in part, “exacerbated” the city’s housing crisis and the potential for interference with land development rights
Following a vote that saw the Interim Zoning bylaw extended to Sept. 22, Councilor Tim Barritt spoke to what he felt was a misleading advertisement in the June 11 issue of The Other Paper.
The advertisement, under the heading, “Smart Growth South Burlington” seemed to criticize the numerous interim zoning extensions, writing that the city council has extended the bylaw multiple times with “no end in sight.”
“The reason for this is that our city government has allowed Interim Zoning to morph into an expanded list of divisive and controversial ideas affecting homeowners, businesses, landowners and tenants here in South Burlington,” the ad says.
Barritt felt the ad was misleading as it had the names of all City Council and Planning Commission members at the bottom. He said that in past The Other Paper advertisements, names at the bottom have signified an endorsement, and that his concern was the placement of council names at the bottom of the “Smart Growth” ad might be mistaken as such.
Attendee Sarah Dopp said the ad was visually misleading and that it also did not identify who paid for it.
Council Chair Helen Riehle took issue with the ad because it used terms that create angst.
“They continue to talk about taking land. This assumption that all of the properties would be bought by the community,” she said, in reference to a section of the ad concerning the work of the city’s Open Space Committee.
Riehle said there was never an intent for parcels identified as priority conservation land by the committee to be conserved via “takings.”
“That was never the case and I don’t know how many times the committee tried to correct that,” Riehle said. “I just find that almost Trump-esq, in the sense that you just use whatever words you want to elicit a response that’s negative, when in fact, you’ve been told that that’s a misinterpretation.”
Councilor Tom Chittenden said he would not defend this group, and he was not endorsing the ad, but he thought there was public concern about how the city would use the list of identified parcels.
Chittenden owns four acres that were included in the Open Space Committee’s study, and he was worried that the city would identify his land for conservation or “want to do something to affect its resale value.”
“It’s a broader discussion and I think we’re going to continue it as we go forward. But I’m not seeing the Trump-esq piece to what you just stated,” Chittenden said.
“I found the ad very disturbing, disingenuous, and a form of fear mongering,” attendee Michael Mittag said. “The fact that the people who paid for the ad didn’t have the courage to sign their names to it is very disturbing.”
Mittag added that he knew nine or 10 of the people involved in “Smart Growth South Burlington” do not live in South Burlington.