The Planning and Zoning Commissioners set aside most of their regular business at Wednesday's meeting, so that they could hear from the Town Planner of Hamden, Leslie Creane.
POCD Overhaul and the use of charrettes
Creane was invited to speak by the P&Z Commission because she has guided Hamden through substantial changes in their Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). Middletown is in the middle of re-writing our POCD, and Catherine Johnson and other commissioners felt it would be useful to hear from Creane about the approach that Hamden took.
Creane said that in 2007 the Hamden city leaders decided to sanction a "complete zoning regulation overhaul". They hired consultants to help the town through the process. The central mechanism for re-writing the POCD was 5 long days of charrette. This was a process where multiple people, in this case city officials, consultants, and most importantly members of the public, worked with large maps and design boards to discuss the future of the many different neighborhoods that make up Hamden. A combination of sticky notes, pencils, and discussions allowed the public to help shape the POCD, and allowed Creane and the Planning and Zoning Commissioners to gauge public reactions to various ideas.
Creane said she was overjoyed at the turnout for the charrettes in Hamden. She said that while Planning and Zoning meetings tended to always have the same members of the public in attendance, the charrettes attracted an entirely new and much more diverse group of people.
Creane and her staff took the input from the charrettes and used it to prepare a draft of new regulations. She has spent considerable time during this process going out to speak at neighborhood and other civic organizations, explaining and defending the new POCD to citizens who are concerned about its implications for their areas of interest.
Form-based Zoning and SmartCode
Hamden plans to take an unusual approach to zoning in their new plan. Most cities, like Middletown, have exclusively "use-based zoning", we have zones for industrial, zones for residential, zones for commercial, etc. In contrast, the Hamden draft POCD is based to a very large extent on "Form-based zoning", which emphasizes how buildings shape how residents interact with each other and with their environment. In form-based zoning, there are far fewer restrictions on the use of land (although there still are some), but the zoning pays much closer attention to such things as the size of buildings and how they are placed on the land.
Creane also presented Hamden's movement towards adopting SmartCode principles into their POCD. SmartCode is a template which allows individual towns and cities to create ordinances that foster walkable neighborhoods. It promotes one set of form-based zoning. Hamden is the only town in Connecticut that is in the process of incorporating SmartCode principles into their POCD. The only other towns in New England that are doing the same are Montpelier (Vermont), Jamestown (Rhode Island), and Dover (New Hampshire).
The guiding principles of Hamden's POCD seemed quite appropriate for Middletown, Creane said they included 1) coherence of zoning, 2) an increase in commercial tax revenue, 3) preserving the environment and open space, 4) increasing safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and 5) regulation of building forms. She said that they took great efforts to "Clearly state the intent of all regulations: to improve the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of Hamden, and to preserve the environment."
The majority of the Commissioners were enthusiastic about Creane's presentation, and thanked her profusely for coming up to Middletown. Creane told them it was her pleasure, offering up the statement, "I am passionate about city planning."
Regular Commission Business
The Commissioners took care of regular business very rapidly, before the presentation by Creane. Two separate business expansions were approved, one by Mack Fire Protection on Industrial Park Place, and the other a car dealer on Newfield Street. The commissioners again failed to elect a chair, Richard Pelletier, nominated by the James Fortuna and seconded by Barbara Plum received 3 votes, and Deborah Kleckowski, nominated by Ron Borelli and seconded by Les Adams, received 4 votes. 5 votes are needed to elect a chair and thus Pelletier remains as acting chair.
Carl Bolz reported that the Bylaws subcommittee was moving ahead with their work, and would hold the next meeting on May 20th at City Hall. Catherine Johnson invited members of the Commission and members of the public to attend the workshops on the Middletown POCD. She said the next one would be on transit (buses, streetcar, bike routes), and would take place next Thursday at 6:30 in the Hubbard Room of the Public Library.