Tuesday, May 13, 2014

P&Z to Discuss Riverfront Floating Zone

The Planning and Zoning commission begins its discussion of the proposed Riverfront Floating Zone at the Wednesday, May 14 meeting. At its April 23rd meeting, the commission  postponed the discussion until General Counsel Brig Smith could provide an opinion. In that opinion (dated April 23?), Smith cited many statutes and rulings supporting the legality and established use of floating zones in general and specifically concluded that the proposed Zoning Section 39C is a "perfectly permissible floating zone." 

The proposed language of Section 39C is as follows:

Section 39C Riverfront Development Floating Zone

39C.01- PURPOSE- A floating zone designed to permit and encourage variety and flexibility in land development but also retaining the Commission’s legislative authority to guide and ensure proper development in accordance with these regulations. The Commission may approve, disapprove or approve with modifications the application of this floating zone and a plan for the development of land, which plan may deviate from the standards in the underlying zone (s), subject to the following standards and procedures:

 39C.01A RIVERFRONT DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINES- The intent of the floating zone is to keep development at an appropriate scale, to design elements to strengthen the downtown and the riverfront area by allowing compatible uses and connections between the two and to establish uses that will complement the downtown. The following criteria shall be considered when evaluating site plans for possible application of this zone to an particular site:
Consistent and Compatible – the proposed shall be consistent and compatible with the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development and the January 2014 Placemaking on the Middletown Riverfront Report prepared by Project for Public Spaces.

-  Mixed use – encourage a mix of uses to create places where people can live, work, shop and play and not be dependent on the automobile.

-  Protection of View corridors– preserve and enhance property values and create a successful living environment by maintaining and creating as many views of the river as possible.

-  Natural systems –preserve unique undeveloped natural systems.

-  Encourage water dependent uses – so as to avoid competition with other commercial areas this area encourages water dependent / water related uses.

-  Environmentally Sustainable – demonstrate the use of some of the following reduce, reuse, recycle, LEED and LEED ND certification, green buildings, green roofs, solar panels, geothermal heating, energy efficiency, water conservation and overall carbon footprint.

-  Permeable – display permeability in design of required hardscapes and low impact design which promotes water quality.

-  Dynamic, creative and financially sustainable –a dynamic and creative development that is long lasting, adds value to the area and the city’s grand list.

-   Superior – the proposed floating zone development shall be superior to development permitted utilizing the underlying zoning regulations.
39C.02- APPLICABILITY- This floating zone may be applied to any lot or assemblage of lots (with owner consent)  in excess of 3 acres fronting on the streets named and in the areas as described below:
          River Road- from the intersection with Harbor Drive east to the intersection with Silver Street;
     Walnut Street- from the intersection with River Road north to the Route 9 overpass;
      Eastern Drive- from the intersection River Road, north to the intersection with Silver Street;
        Silver Street (north side)- from the intersection with Eastern Drive, east to the intersection with River Road;
         Omo Street; and
         Maplewood Terrace.
In rendering a decision on a zone change the Commission acts in a legislative capacity and shall be afforded wide and liberal discretion. The Commission shall use its knowledge of the area, Section 71 of this Code, the report from the Design Review and Preservation Board and the above Riverfront Development Guidelines in rendering its decision.

39C.03- PROCEDURE-APPLICATION PROCESS SITE PLAN REQUIREMENTS - An application for approval of a Riverfront Development floating zone shall be made in writing to the Planning and Zoning Commission by the owner or owners of the land which are the subject of the application, together with any other applicant.
1. All applications shall include the following information:

a)   Master Plan for entire property and concept plan for adjoining blocks, including overall design objectives and guidelines for the entire area.
b)   Twenty prints of a site plan of the property drawn to scale based upon Connecticut   Geodetic Survey (CGS) datum and certified by a licensed surveyor or engineer, showing the information required under Section 55 of this Code; and
c)  Twenty prints of all proposed building floor plans and elevations, drawn to a scale of not less than 1/16 inch equals one foot, including an indication of all materials and colors proposed to be used in all buildings, including signage.
d)  Twenty prints of a landscaping plan indicating the location, size and species of all plant materials proposed to be preserved and planted, including a note indicating that no CT listed invasive plants will be used and any CT listed invasive plants present on site will be removed in accordance with generally accepted removal practices. 
e)  For each building and land area proposed to be used for other than residential purposes, a description of the proposed uses, operations and estimate of number of employees and other occupants.
f)   Parking and Traffic Study, prepared by a CT licensed traffic engineer.
g)  Storm water drainage study, prepared by a CT licensed engineer.

2.      The Commission shall refer the proposed plan to the Design Review and Preservation Board (DRPB). The DRPB shall review landscape plans, any improvements or modifications to the exterior of existing buildings and all proposed new buildings or additions for appropriateness and architectural continuity;

a.)    The DRPB shall consider the application and shall approve, disapprove or approve with modifications the proposed plan within 60 days after referral.
b.)    If the DRPB fails to act on the application within the stated time limit, the application shall be presumed to be approved by the DRPB.
c.)    The Planning and Zoning Commission shall not approve a request for a Riverfront Development floating zone if the request fails to receive approval or approval with modifications from the DRPB.

3.      The Planning and Zoning Commission shall hold a public hearing on the proposed plan as acted upon by the DRPB and shall approve, disapprove or approve with modifications. Such development plan, if approved by the Commission, shall modify or supplement the regulations of the Zoning Code as they apply to the property included in the approved plan.

4.      The Planning and Zoning Commission may attach any conditions to its approval as it considers necessary in order to assure continued conformance with the approved plan and the zoning regulations and may also require the submission of a suitable performance bond to assure satisfactory completion of necessary improvements.

5.      A suitable notation shall be made in the Zoning regulation and on the Zoning Map identifying any property for which a Riverfront development floating zone has been approved.

6.      Applications for changes in approved plans shall be made and acted upon by the DRPB and the Planning and Zoning Commission at a regular monthly meeting. Changes of a substantial nature shall require a public hearing.

39C.04- PERMITTED USES AND DENSITY- The permitted uses and density shall be requested by the applicant and determined by the Commission at the time of application to apply the floating zone to a particular parcel(s). Such uses shall include but not be limited to office, multi-family, entertainment, day care centers, recreation, marine craft and marinas, other water dependent uses, non-automotive retail trade, restaurants specifically prohibiting drive thru restaurants, hotels and other short term lodging, museum, art galleries, theaters, community facilities, parks and other open areas.

39C.05- YARD REQUIREMENTS – Height and yard requirement is that any building shall have maximum and minimum height and yards sufficient to insure proper design and placement of buildings as determined by the Commission during the process to apply the floating zone to a particular parcel(s).

39C.06- PARKING REQUIREMENTS AND MODIFCATIONS- Parking requirements are those listed in Section 40 of this zoning code. Modifications to these requirements may be requested and approved by the Commission during the process to apply the floating zone to a particular parcel(s).

For me, the most troubling part of the section is that it seems to re-charter the DRPB as a legislative body from which "approval is required", when it is in fact only an advisory board. Given the lack of any specific design criteria in the zone language, I agree that DRPB oversight is essential, but the lawyers should make sure the architects have the authority to do what we are asking them to do. 

As I have said before, I am concerned that the article Bill Warner originally circulated, and that Brig Smith now quotes from in his opinion, concludes with, "The zoning board will have very limited discretion at the site-planning stage, and you [the developer] will be largely protected from any changes." The Planning and Zoning Commission and the public need to consider if Section 39C, or any floating zone, will ensure the kind of development Middletown wants and needs on the riverfront. 

The Riverfront Floating Zone discussion is item 10.2 on the agenda under Other Commission Affairs. Public comments on this topic can be made under item 4 (Public comment on items on the agenda which are not currently scheduled for a public hearing) and, seemingly again under item 9 (Public comments on topics which are not or have not been the subject of a public hearing).


Anonymous said...

Thank you SO MUCH for writing this column. It is very helpful in trying to understand what is going on in Middletown.

Stephen Smith said...

Thanks. I'll try to make it more helpful by by getting rid of all the HTML tags. They don't appear in my preview mode.