2008-09-18 / Editorial

VIEWPOINT

Planning is a work in progress
By Lisa Bryer

Community planning is a consensus building process based on community input, professional guidance and political will.

Jamestown is in the process of updating its Zoning Ordinance. The town adopted the Zoning Ordinance in its current form in 1995 to be consistent with the newly adopted State Zoning Enabling Legislation. Since then, in excess of 30 amendments have occurred to this document, from creating the "Public" Zoning District for municipal parcels to allowing lots in the Commercial Downtown Zoning District to count the on-street parking towards the parking requirement. Each time it is amended by the Town Council, it has to be found consistent with the currently approved Jamestown Comprehensive Plan as well as the State Zoning Enabling Legislation.

As many will recall, last fall the Planning Commission hosted a week long Charrette, a collaborative planning session that involved multiple meetings with stakeholders, including public, professionals and elected officials. The stated goal of the Charrette was to help the town develop zoning amendments and design guidelines that would help manage future growth and enhance the walkable character of the downtown.

A secondary, but equally important, goal was to develop design strategies for adding affordable units within the village based on recommendations that are identifi ed in the town's affordable housing plan in the Comprehensive Community Plan. The Charrette successfully developed a comprehensive "vision" for the future of the village area.

The Charrette and our current zoning amendment focused primarily on the village area; the Commercial Districts (CD, CL, DC), R-8 and R-20 define "village" boundary (Urban Services District). There are two reasons for this. One reason is because that is the area that has experienced the most growth over the last decade and the second reason is because it is the area that has the potential to experience the most growth over the next decade. Much of the growth is anticipated to be commercial and the rest residential, including affordable housing. The village is the only area in town with public water and sewer and is logically the area that will be able to absorb the most affordable housing through slight increases in density.

That is not to say that the rest of the town is being "ignored," as we have heard bantered about. But that the rest of the town will remain status quo, as characterized in the Comprehensive Community Plan. The zoning in the Rural Service District (those areas without public water and sewer) is generally based upon "carrying capacity" of the land, since public services are not feasible or planned at this time (R-40, RR-80 and RR-200). Adjustments have been made and will continue to be made to those areas as needed.

What makes this zoning update so exciting is the potential to utilize a new style of zoning, called "form based zoning," as opposed to "traditional (Euclidian) zoning." The theory behind the traditional zoning model, in use since the 1930's, is that by cleanly delineating permitted land uses, and by keeping them separate, compatibility between neighboring development might be insured. Planners now recognize that "zoning by-use" generally ignores how much difference design can make in insuring the compatibility of neighboring developments. For this reason, most conventional zoning ordinances couple the land use restrictions with dimensional requirements. The rigid Traditional Zoning has often been criticized, world wide, for its failure to adapt to special situations such as historic districts, planned developments or a small village such as downtown Jamestown. Form-based codes, in existence since the early 1980's, are proving to be particularly adept at regulating new infill development in existing residential areas to respect the existing character/context and prevent new out-of-scale development. Form based zoning embraces appropriate mixed uses within a village area and regulates the form of the structure as it relates to the street. The "form based zoning" will draw on the Charrette conclusions and derive its approach to development regulation from that "vision."

Crafting zoning ordinances is a tricky business that requires much discussion, development and revision. It requires public input from the very beginning. The Planning Commission has been discussing the revised zoning at their meetings once a month, on the first Wednesday of the month and at alternate meetings (third Wednesday of the month) as time allows since they are reserved for reviewing applications. We welcome all residents of Jamestown to participate in this exciting process and look forward to your attendance at one or all of our meetings. Our goal is to forward the Draft Zoning to the Town Council in November for more formal public hearings and adoption.

Editor's note: Lisa Bryer is the town planner for the Town of Jamestown.

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