2009-10-15 / Letters to the Editor

Delay zoning amendment vote

I attended the workshop for the proposed zoning ordinance amendments last Thursday. The Town Council seems determined to push the amendments through before the election without a proper review process.

I call on the council to postpone the vote until after the November election and after the public has had sufficient time to understand how the details affect the town and their own property. These are very large changes and everyone needs more time to study the details. The amendments will also affect those who live outside of the village in terms of the density and look of development in the village and the availability of nearby parking.

I have two main issues: vision and process. Although I attended the charrette two years ago and offered my input, the discussions were on a very general level. One could get a sense of what people wanted, but details mean everything. At the time, I offered the opinion that this was really not Jamestown’s vision, but the vision of New Urbanists. That comment was not well received to say the least. In reality, SmartCode is not vision neutral. The purpose of the charrette was not to create a vision for Jamestown, but to translate the comments into numbers that fill in the blanks of the SmartCode template. The following excerpt is from the currently proposed amendment:

“The Transect, as a framework, identifies a range of habitats from the most natural to the most urban. Its continuum, when subdivided, lends itself to the creation of zoning categories. These categories include standards that encourage diversity similar to that of organically evolved settlements. The standards overlap (they are parametric), reflecting the successional ecotones of natural and human communities. The Transect thereby

integrates environmental and zoning methodologies, enabling environmentalists to assess the design of social habitats and urbanists to support the viability of natural ones.”

This somewhat meaningless collection of words directly relates to a New Urbanist desire to impose their social vision via zoning laws. In a general sense, there are many things to like about SmartCode, but it’s really not our town’s vision. There is nothing ur- ban about Jamestown, but many of the changes are designed to treat it that way. Details matter, and there has been little time for review of the final draft.

This leads to process. Why is there such a rush to push these amendments through? I have been following the discussions in the paper and understand that townspeople have been encouraged to attend the meetings. However, I didn’t know this was mandatory to have any say in the content of the amendments, and there didn’t seem to be any formal process for public input of a moving target. I was under the impression that a draft was being prepared and that the people in town would have a chance for review. I found out only in the last couple of weeks that this is a “final” draft and that there appears to be an effort by some to push it through before the November election occurs. This should not happen.

We have lived in the village (CD zone) for the last 25 years. We bought our property specifi- cally because we knew there were certain things we could do with it. That was part of the cost of the property. One of those options was to put in a house where an in-law could live. We had thought about putting in a single story house or a small bungalow.

Now, according to the Smart- Code vision, we are told that the building has to be at least two stories tall, it has to be set back no more than 12 feet from the road, it has to have at least 60% frontage, and it can’t be an “edgeyard” property (one that has space or setback on both the left and right sides). We are being forced to fit some urban vision of a CD zone. We might as well convert our house into a mixed-use doctor’s office and apartment and build a three-story commercial building on our back lot. We will maximize our profits and then move somewhere else. Is this really Jamestown’s vision?

I am told that I could apply for a variance, but what is this process? It seems that the amendments are designed to force all construction in town to go through a one or twostep review process that requires both the cost of an architect and lawyer. Property owners will lose the last little bit of discretion over their own vision to the vision of SmartCode or the zoning board du jour. In the future, will all real estate purchase agreements in town come with conditions or options that depend on zoning approval?

The zoning ordinance vote should be delayed and a detailed description published of what owners in each zone can do with their property before and after the amendments. This description should include details on changes to the building and zoning process in terms of time delays and cost. These amendments will greatly impact the look and feel of the village. Everyone has to evaluate whether the vision they offered at the charrette looks anything like the one in the amendments.
Steve Hollister

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