Pedestrian-friendly streets are envisioned in proposed new zoning regulations for Taft Corners.
‘This truly is a master plan for Taft Corners’
By Jason Starr
The regulations to finally make Taft Corners the pedestrian-centric, thoughtfully designed neighborhood that residents first described in the Town Plan in the 1990s have come into full form and are up for consideration this spring by the Williston Selectboard.
The town’s planning department and planning commission have worked for the better part of the past two years to write the new rules, enlisting input from citizens and the expertise of design consultants. The effort garnered “Project of the Year” recognition from the Vermont Planners Association this week.
The planning commission signed off on the final draft of the new regulations in March, and Planning Director Matt Boulanger presented them to the selectboard on Tuesday. Because of the amount of information presented (all available at www.mytaftcorners.com), the board chose to hear the presentation in two parts. A second part is planned for the May 17 selectboard meeting. The board also plans to hold a public hearing on the proposal June 7 before voting whether to adopt them into the town’s Unified Development Bylaw.
The so-called “form-based code” changes the nature of zoning in Taft Corners — the 1,000 or so acres surrounding the intersection of routes 2 and 2A — by prescribing detailed standards about the look and size of any new building that a landowner wishes to build, as well as the building’s relationship to the street it is on. Single story buildings won’t be allowed; building height can max out at five stories; buildings must be less than 20,000 square feet; and they must be built fronting the sidewalk and street (i.e., no spacious front lawns).
What uses are allowed, the basis of traditional zoning, is mostly unregulated. As long as a building conforms to the new code — built vertically with the prescribed look and placement on the street — all residential and (legal) commercial uses would be allowed.
What will happen to the large, single-story retail stores near the Exit 12 interstate interchange? The planning commission chose to exclude that area from the new regulations.
“Walmart and Home Depot are not in this district,” Boulanger said. “There is still a place for that more traditional retail to develop and redevelop.”
The building code works hand in hand with a new map of where future streets and open spaces are to be built. The street map aims to create a grid of pedestrian-friendly blocks where a person is always within at most a three-minute walk of a park.
“This … truly is a master plan for Taft Corners,” Boulanger wrote in an April memo to the board. “In addition to site design standards and revised architectural requirements, it will create a coordinated layout for attractive new buildings, parks and natural areas connected by green, livable streets and pedestrian and bicycle ways.”
Landowners in the district who present development plans that conform to the code will have the benefit of bypassing the town’s growth management process, in which developers compete for a limited annual allowance of new home construction during a Development Review Board hearing. Conforming development plans will instead be approved through a permit from the planning and zoning office.
Impact fees, traditionally collected in dollars to pay for a development’s increased strain on municipal services, would be paid instead by the construction of the streets and parks laid out in the official map. What happens if a developer refuses to incorporate the prescribed streets and open spaces? That would lead to negotiations with the selectboard about the town acquiring the land to create the public amenities. If no agreement is reached, the board has the avenue of an eminent domain lawsuit to take the property.
“Making all of this happen does anticipate a different way of relating to Taft Corners (landowners),” Boulanger said.
Landowners in the district include Taft Corners Associates, Snyder Homes and Allen Brook Development. Their owners provided input about the new rules during planning commission hearings in February and March.
Boulanger acknowledged that the new regulations do little to create affordable housing, other than potentially lowering construction costs for developers. He also noted that for some of the neighborhood blocks to be built, the town will have to acquire sections of Routes 2 and 2A from the State of Vermont.