Shelburne’s zoning policy in the town’s residential district along the northern part of Route 7 is “overly complex for a relatively small geographic area” and relies on “unclear, vague or contradictory language” compared to the town plan which, as a result, leaves the area open for a wide array of development that the town and neighbors may not want to see.

That’s according to Blue Zones, the company brought in to make a thorough examination of Shelburne’s mixed residential character overlay district, which runs along Route 7 past the town center up to the border with South Burlington.

The company was hired in April to evaluate and advise the town on its zoning after concerns were raised by residents in the area about new development already in the works.

While the issue has brewed for some time, it erupted after chiropractors Stephen Brandon and Shelley Crombach proposed to build behind their office at 2882 Shelburne Road.

The 115-unit housing development several miles north of Shelburne Village was first proposed in September but was granted a six-month extension earlier this year after residents argued that the project, and the zoning regulations in place, allow for too much density in the area.

The area in question is covered by form-based code, a type of land development regulation first instituted in 2014 that applies specific, agreed-upon building standards for a zoning district. It allows for a more streamlined application process and conveys to potential developers what should be built.

The problem is that there is no clear definition of what type of housing development is permissible, and thus the zoning inadvertently allows for a multitude of different types of housing, according to Mary Madden, one of the project team members with Blue Zones who has more than 25 years of experience in urban planning and design, community development and historic preservation.

So, under the form-based code, if a developer’s project meets all the regulations, their application will see a quick and streamlined process through the planning commission and development review board with less oversight.

But the “parameters are way too broad for this district,” Madden said. One parcel of land up for development could have four types of buildings and housing structures, be it condominiums, single family housing or apartment buildings.

“The fact the standards are so broad that you could produce such a range means the neighbors can’t predict what’s going to happen and the staff doesn’t know what’s going to happen because this code allows for a wide range of development,” Madden said.

The presentation — view it at bit.ly/3bsP2S6 — confirmed assumptions from residents and planning and zoning staff in Shelburne that the form-based code is far too complex and allows for development residents may not want to see.

“I guess we knew all along that we weren’t creating anything perfect,” said Ann Hogan, a former planning commission member who served on the committee that created the district, and who later called the zoning policy a “very complex monster.”

The question now is what to do about it.

Residents repeatedly asked whether the town could institute a development freeze in the area, an action “that will be in play,” said Steve Kendall, chair of the planning commission, while the town decides whether to revamp the zoning ordinance.

“We will digest this and based upon this information we are then going to figure out what the next course of action is,” he said. “There’s obviously work that needs to be done.”

The “lion’s share” of the next planning commission meeting, scheduled for July 14, will be a discussion of where to go next, he said.

“The question for you all is to decide what it is that you want to do and what you want the code to achieve and that will help you frame what your next step should be,” Madden said.

(2) comments

jbd

'Disappointing we need to pay a consultant to point out the obvious, which of course lays the foundation for paying a consultant for recommendations or review of what the Town is considering. Needing consultants to understand/improve land use regulations in a town this size is really disappointing (of course, except for the consultants).

saveshelburnevt

The town really needs to put a pause in place, stopping the use of this troublesome zoning until they have the time they need to properly fix the issues. As the article says, we've asked the town repeatedly to put such a pause in place. We even had an online petition (that now has over 800 signatures) asking for interim zoning that the town selectboard chose not to enact, stating among other reasons that online petitions are invalid (technically this is true).

We are trying again, this time with a proper paper petition. Please go to www.saveshelburnevt.com to learn about and arrange to sign the petition, for the good of your town!

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