2006-11-22 / News

Zoning Ordinance update slated to begin in January

By Michaela Kennedy

At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Planning Commission received guidance from Town Planner Lisa Bryer concerning approaches to update the town's Zoning Ordinance. The update, scheduled to begin in January, is required by the state to bring the document into alignment with the Community Comprehensive Plan, which was last approved by the state in 2004.

Bryer identified the existing zones on the island, which are open space, public, residential, and commercial districts. The current zoning system used by the town is Euclidian, or traditional, zoning. Traditional zoning divides the municipality into a series of mapped districts, and then assigns permitted uses to each zone, according to the town planner. However, Bryer pointed out, "Zoning by use generally ignores how much difference design can make in ensuring the compatibility of neighboring developments."

Bryer also pointed out that traditional zoning has failed to adapt to special situations, such as historic districts or downtown needs, making the update "very timely since we're getting a new wave of construction."

The town planner suggested that the community decide on a vision, and work together with experts to craft drawings and images of the kind of development and preservation that would physically illustrate that vision. "Traditional zoning has worked outside the village; inside the village is where we need to look at some other type of zoning," she added.

Bryer suggested looking at form-based codes. These are methods of development that address the relationship between building facades and the public realm, the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks.

She also suggested considering SmartCode, a form-based code which provides an alternative to traditional zoning. The tool includes urban design and basic architectural standards along with zoning and subdivision regulations. Because of the unique quality of the village and

rural character of the island, "we may want to consider a hybrid" of the traditional and form-based approaches, Bryer added.

The commission agreed to begin the zoning update in January with a request for proposals for a village "charrette," an intensive effort that will join the community with experts to create a visual goal for the future design of the downtown village. The commission expects to hold the charrette sometime in February or March.

More information regarding form-based codes can be found online at formbasedcodes.org. For those interested in learning more about SmartCode, go online to placemakers.com.

In other business, Architect Ron DiMauro and associate John Tumino gave a presentation about the review process for development plan applications. The commission has recently discussed using architectural consultants, when needed, for downtown development projects.

DiMauro explained what his company looks for in a building and described the process of an architectural review. "I hope to help the board with the architectural integrity of the town," he said.

DiMauro mentioned some of the building design regulations that North Kingstown considers and how he has worked with the town to originate a design fitting with its character. He showed a sketch of a typical Home Depot alongside a modified rendering he and his associate made. He brought attention to the size of the commercial building and the changes made in its dimensions. "You don't really understand the scale until you go beyond the building and look at the surrounding area," he said.

DiMauro went on to say his background in contracting has helped him to "try to be sensitive to the cost" of construction.

Planning Commissioner Barry Holland asked about the report that is written for a municipality and if the applicant would receive a copy.

DiMauro said it was a good idea. The town planner added that such a report would be distributed from the planning office.

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