It’s official: after years of public hearings, refinement by the Planning Commission, and adoption by the Selectboard, developers of properties in the Shelburne Road corridor–north of the LaPlatte River bridge to the South Burlington town line–may now opt to use Form Based Code rather than the existing zoning bylaws. The Form Based Code is designed to provide incentives for developers, placing greater emphasis on building design and site layout and less emphasis on the types of uses, with the goal of facilitating sustainable development.
Planning Commission member Kate Lalley, who initiated the Form Based Code option when she was chair of the commission, said the new code “breaks up the relentless linearity of the corridor” by dividing it into a series of character districts. These are defined by the surrounding built context and by what property owners and their neighbors said they wanted.
Lalley said that Form Based Code “is the set of tools that can reclaim Route 7 as a recognizable part of the town; it’s a restart button to retrofit from undifferentiated suburban strip to a series of places someone would want to live near, visit, and spend money at.”
She noted that it could bring new economic investment that benefits all taxpayers because it removes obstacles to redeveloping outmoded vacant properties, supports local business and could attract young entrepreneurs, will achieve convenient and pleasant destinations within walking distance of surrounding neighborhoods, and streamlines the local permit process to make it more transparent and predictable.
Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange characterized Form Based Code as “a powerful alternative to conventional zoning” that “fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm,” that will promote appropriate businesses along the corridor. He said, “The town could also conceivably see properties change hands as more forward-thinking developers who see the long-term value of Form Based Code might want to purchase some of the mixed-use district vacant properties.”
Town Manager Joe Colangelo called it a “bold and appropriate step” that he hopes will enhance economic activity in the corridor in the most aesthetically pleasing way, although he cautioned that it may be a decade before substantial change is noticeable. Town Planner Dean Pierce said he sees the option as “more evolutionary that revolutionary,” and thinks it’s important for a developer or property owner to see the opportunities created under the code. Once it is used and people see the results, others will follow, Pierce predicted.
Colangelo and von Stange praised Kate Lalley for her efforts in promoting the Form Based Code option. Von Stange said she “should be recognized for her commitment, her knowledge, and her ever-guiding spirit. She has researched, reasoned, explained, advocated and pushed this project to enactment. [She] is an amazing person, an incredible benefit to our town. I’d be fine naming it Kate’s Code.”
The seven Character Districts along the Shelburne corridor are as follows:
(1) Mixed Use Street Character District (MUSCD) at the northern end of Shelburne Road (U.S. Route 7). This district is intended to provide an attractive northern gateway into Shelburne that provides a clear visual delineation of the Town line. It is also intended to provide commercial opportunities catering to travelers on Shelburne Road in an area that is safe and inviting to pedestrians through flexibility in new and existing building placement, convenient pedestrian and automobile circulation (provided in part by new interior multi-modal streets), and small-scale public spaces. The MUSCD contains three Frontage Zones at the intersections of Route 7 at Martindale Road, Route 7 at Juniper Road/Clearwater Road, and Route 7 at Hullcrest Road/Lakeview Drive. Buildings have active ground floor uses, are between 1.5 and 3.5 stories, and are placed toward the front of the lot to create a street wall and enclosure. Outdoor activity zones are located between the building facade and street right-of-way, and parking is located primarily behind the building. In addition, stormwater Best Management Practices (BMP) are required.
(2) Mixed Use Neighborhood Character District (centered on the intersection of Route 7 at Longmeadow Drive and the access road to Shelburne Commons and Rice Lumber). It is intended to accommodate a mix of new residential uses with expanded commercial uses with smaller-scale new buildings and additions to existing buildings that provide enclosure along Shelburne Road. New interior streets provide multimodal access to neighborhoods. Building patterns reflect the character of traditional village design with irregular setbacks, integrated open spaces, complete streets, varied building size and massing, and projecting elements. Sidewalks and paths connect to surrounding neighborhoods and corridors. Buildings in this area are between 1.5 and 3.5 stories and have active ground floor uses.
(3) Green Corridor Character District (GCCD) located north and south of the Bay Road and Route 7 intersection. It is intended to preserve the existing pattern of large setbacks for buildings while also providing multi-modal access. Commercial and residential buildings are intended to be clustered into less environmentally sensitive areas of the district. The open space in the GCCD is intended to accommodate environmental benefits, passive and active recreation, agriculture, and civic gatherings. Much of the GCCD lies within the watershed of an impaired waterway. Low-impact development (LID) design techniques or stormwater BMP are required.
(4) Business Campus Character District (BCCD). This includes the current Commerce & Industry zoning district near the Bay Road intersection and is intended to provide opportunities for business enterprises that do not require visibility from Shelburne Road. It is also intended to provide multi-modal access to properties in the character district.
(5) Special Uses Character District (SUCD) is east of Shelburne Road, south of the Bay Road intersection. It is intended to accommodate a broad range of building types generally clustered into traditional neighborhood or campus development patterns to preserve open spaces and views from Shelburne Road. Development potential includes pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, research and academic institutions, or visitor accommodations and facilities. Building heights may range from one to four stories providing views of Lake Champlain. An interconnected network of streets, paths, and open spaces connect development nodes. In addition, stormwater BMP are required.
(6) Mixed Residential Character District (MRCD) covers existing or potential residential areas along Shelburne Road. Much of the MRCD is located in the Residential zoning district and will largely remain as currently developed. Where opportunities exist for expansion, redevelopment, and new development, the MRCD is intended to accommodate a mix of attached and detached residential building types in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. New sites and neighborhoods should be accessed through relatively narrow tree-lined streets and integrated with pedestrian and bicycle amenities, small parks, and connections to surrounding neighborhoods and the village center.
(7) Conservation Character District (CCD) shall remain predominantly undeveloped and in its natural state, providing passive and active recreational opportunities. Due to the environmental sensitivity of the CCD, pervious pavers and other low-impact development (LID) design techniques or stormwater BMP are required
Lalley noted five reasons for the code: (1) underperformance of the town’s largest commercial area; (2) the underwhelming appearance of the major gateway to Shelburne because of its poor aesthetics, vacant properties and lack of a recognizable Shelburne identity; (3) the fact that the existing bylaws enable unsustainable and destructive development patterns because existing lots are difficult to repurpose; (4) outcomes under existing zoning were more car-oriented sprawl and additional stormwater problems ; and (5) the autocentric environment is inhospitable to surrounding neighborhoods.