Scroll down for the March 25 Webinar Q&A.
It is a way of regulating development that controls building form first and building use second. Its goal is to produce a particular type of “place” or built environment, based on a community-endorsed vision plan.
While conventional zoning controls land-use very strictly, it is usually tied to abstract regulatory statistics that can produce very different (unpredictable) physical environments. The base principal of form-based coding is that design is more important than use. Simple and clear graphic prescriptions for building height, how a building is placed on a site, and building elements (such as windows, doors, etc.) are used to control future development.
As Taft Corners has evolved over the last 40 years, the town’s vision of it as a “mixed-use, design-conscious, pedestrian friendly” place has remained remarkably consistent. The town has made steady efforts to build out the “grid” of streets necessary to achieve this vision and has employed a variety of regulatory tools over the years to shape the private development that will bring life to those streets. However, those tools, including the performance standards in place since 2009, have had weak spots. Buildings developed in compliance with the current development standards have fallen short of community vision in terms of their appearance and siting, and the community is demanding a more coordinated approach than the “case-by-case” development review that sometimes yields inconsistent results.
The Town has begun this public-participation/visioning process in order to engage the community in an affirmative, proactive manner to define our expectations for the future of the Taft Corners. We are arranging a public visioning workshop process in order to develop a Vision Plan. This plan will provide the framework for new Form-Based development regulations. To best implement the community’s Vision Plan, a Form-Based Code that shapes the form and function of buildings is needed.
In general, Taft Corners, or more specifically, the Taft Corners Growth Center. The growth center boundaries extend roughly from Blair Park Road to the Fire Station on Route 2 and from Beaudry Lane to Exit 12 along Route 2A. There's a hard stop just past Talcott Road- the land across from the Fire Station is conserved and cannot be developed.
See the attached map for the specific locations.
Although well intended, the current zoning has not produced development in Taft Corners that people are happy with and the vision laid out in the Town Plan (compact, walkable) isn’t being achieved. This is not unique to Williston. Most conventional zoning ordinances provide an artificial and misleading level of statistical specificity, by regulating development in terms of minute gradations of use, and dwelling units per acre, but have no clear goal for the desired form or character of new development, or of the Place that development will shape/create.
The current zoning is also out of sync with both the Town’s vision and the market. It has led to some unfortunate development on the one hand, while at the same time it requires an arduous, unpredictable review process for new development that is desirable and fulfills our goals (such as promoting mixed-use and pedestrian-oriented development).
Our development regulations should make it easy to build the type of development that the community wants and difficult to build in a way that conflicts with the community vision. Conventional zoning is a clumsy tool for mixed-use and pedestrian (street) oriented centers and neighborhoods. Many of the characteristics of those neighborhoods are not allowed or encouraged under existing zoning.
Yes. Land-use is not ignored but is managed using broad parameters that allow response to market economics. It would be theoretically possible to control uses as strictly in a form-based code as in a conventional zoning system; however, in the best contemporary form-based codes, building form is the primary regulation (particularly for mixed-use districts), with broad parameters for permitted uses (as well as specific prohibitions for undesirable or inappropriate uses for a given district.)
Form-based codes tend to not be concerned with whether a storefront houses a bookstore, restaurant or coffee shop—in fact, there is an expectation that building uses will change over time and, with the exception of health and safety related issues, minimal review/regulations should be required when they do. When a form-based code is used for large areas such as the Targeted Growth Center, different use parameters may be established for different places, “Main Street” vs “Side Street” vs “Edge Street”, including locations that might be limited to residential uses. Other issues are typically addressed through management, enforcement, and/or specific use permits.
They should not! A form-based code can actually streamline the development review process because it typically provides clear parameters and more simple administration, when it is based on a Citizens Endorsed Vision Plan. It should become easier to develop properties that follow the Vision Plan and meet the form-based code standards.
Historically in the United States, many towns regulated development through systems that were primarily form-based. (Two well-known examples are pre-WWII Chicago and Old Town Alexandria in Virginia.) More recently, they are increasingly popular for towns and cities, particularly those that are encouraging (traditional) walkable infill redevelopment and smart growth/sustainable development or are concerned about protecting/enhancing the existing form and character of the community (or a specific district.)
Some of these locations are: Winooski, VT; Arlington, VA; Contra Costa County, CA; Iowa City, IA; Cedar Falls, IA; Cedar Rapids, IA; Fayetteville, AR; Columbia, MO; Peoria, IL; Cincinnati, OH; Overland Park, KS; Portsmouth, VA; and Newport, VT.
Form-Based Codes can be adopted under a variety of scenarios, including replacing the existing zoning, creating a special district, or an optional or parallel overlay district. The Town, for simplicity and consistency, intends to replace the existing zoning with a new streamlined Form-Based Codes for the Taft Corners.
No. Existing buildings and uses will be “grandfathered in” under any new form-based code. Any new regulations will only take effect if an individual owner chooses to redevelop or expand.
While no specific study has been conducted on pedestrian-only usage, Vermont Traffic Data does include pedestrians in their trip counters on state and local roads: https://vtrans.vermont.gov/operations/technical-services/traffic. Observations of town staff and project applicants has been a noticeable uptick in pedestrian activity, especially along the bike path and crosswalks along Williston Road from Route 2A to Talcott Road (near Union Bank, Shaw’s Healthy Living, etc.).
The DRB is a volunteer board appointed by the Selectboard to apply the requirements of the Williston Unified Development Bylaw (WDB) to proposed developments. Though their role is quasi-judicial (public hearings; appeal-able decisions), the authority of the DRB is quite limited. The bylaw is quite prescriptive and even decisions that require their discretion have a limited range.
The Town of Williston has adopted a Conflict of Interest Ordinancewith an overarching policy that all town officials, whether acting as volunteers or as paid staff members, must work to uphold the public trust. The Ordinance establishes principles and standards of conduct that must be followed by town officials; as well as the process for submitting, investigating, and responding to complaints of ethics violations.
Because DRB hearings are a quasi-judicial proceeding, they cannot participate in ex-parte communication. For example, if you were to approach a DRB member in the grocery store and say, “I don’t think you should approve that building at your meeting tonight,” the DRB member must say, “I cannot discuss this with you outside of the public hearing. Please come to the meeting if you would like to submit testimony.” Only testimony submitted formally, such as a comment letter/email directed to the Development Review Board or speaking at a live public hearing, is considered testimony. Comments posted on social media or front porch forum are not considered testimony.
The most common public input expressed at DRB hearings is often outside the jurisdiction of the bylaw and DRB: economic impact, maintenance of town roads & sidewalks, schools, well and septic design. All public testimony is heard by the board, but the most effective comments are those that relate to specific bylaw requirements. The Planning Commission is the more effective public forum when the content of the bylaw itself is in question, and the Selectboard when it’s a concern about another town policy or ordinance.
It may seem like the DRB “rubber stamps” applications and never denies projects because the majority of hard “no’s” happen before an application is even submitted. Planning staff answer questions about what is or is not allowed by the bylaw every day. Prospective applicants typically hire a professional engineer or consultant to design a project that meets their desired goals and town regulations. If an application is submitted that may not be approvable, the hearing may be postponed, continued to a later date pending revision, or withdrawn by the applicant before the DRB can make a decision. Projects that are approved by the DRB are subject to specific conditions of approval the DRB imposes on them to ensure compliance with the Bylaw.
The current development standards in the Williston Unified Development Bylaws (WDB) have some standards for building form/design, but it is primarily driven by types of uses. As we've seen in recent development, the current standards are not getting the streetscapes and architectural design that is "uniquely Williston."
Con't: Case in point is the NE Chimney place, they just moved in and want to get changes to code already.
Answer: Business owners are strongly encouraged to participate throughout this process. Anita on the team will be doing the market study, will do market research to make sure the form-based code will work for the local market demands. For example, from a business owner perspective, what kinds of zoning standards (or market realities) help or hinder businesses? Let us know!
To NE Chimney Supply, that property is located outside the Growth Center. They are going through the Specific Plan process as outlined by chapter 9 of the bylaw. Chapter 9 will not be modified by the form-based code project.
Con't: From my understanding, there really aren't many large undeveloped parcels of land in the Taft Corners Growth Center (outside of the former Essex Alliance Church property).
Answer: A little bit of both and across a long timescale (what will Taft Corners be like for people two generations from now?). We are just seeing some of the oldest "modern" buildings in Taft Corners be considered for redevelopment. Setting a block pattern of existing and new streets may allow the place to evolve over that long period of time, slowly bringing the new and old of the area into greater harmony. In terms of like/don't like, as an employee of the town I'll hold my tongue for now. New development in Williston has achieved a lot of the Town's goals, but my staff and I have also heard a lot of criticism of the materials, design, and layout of buildings in those newer developments.
While the Essex Alliance Church property (approx. 55 acres) is the largest contiguous landholding in the NE quadrant of the Growth Center, several other undeveloped parcel remain along Harvest Lane, Marshall Ave, and between Harvest Lane and Wright Ave (behind Hannaford's). There is also potential for redevelopment within Maple Tree Place on mostly empty parking lots, and redevelopment within Blair Park Road.
Con't: There is currently too much parking today, makes it hard to have a walkable space. Is any part of current requirements mandated from state or federal levels?
Yes, lots of parking. The Planning Commission did a Black Friday parking study in 2018 (pre-covid) and most parking lots were not at full capacity. While there are federal mandates for ADA/accessible parking, regular parking is determined by local zoning. There is currently a parking bylaw amendment (Chapter 14) that was approved by the Planning Commission in late 2020 and on its way to Selectboard for final approval. The parking requirements allow for more flexibility and shared parking (for example, office demand is in the daytime, whereas dining demand in nights/weekends). Chapter 14 sets parking standards for all zoning districts in Williston. We expect Form-based code to further revise/change the parking standards within Growth Center.
Water pipe replacement is outside the scope of the form-based code project. Municipal utilities/infrastructure upgrades are budgeted by the Selectboard and repaired/maintained by the Department of Public Works. Water pipes associated directly with the school may actually be a Champlain Valley School District (CVSD) project/capital improvement expense, not a Williston municipality project.
Not quite sure I am clear on the question but will try my best! The regulating plan of the form-based code will set standards for the existing street network in the growth center and where new grid streets should be aligned. Williston Growth center is served by municipal water and sewer. The VELCO powerlines (over Finney Crossing) are a regional transmission line that the town has almost no control over. In general, when development is compact, the cost of infrastructure per capita is reduced. Infill development along existing streets, or building desired grid streets within the existing street networks, is more fiscally responsible than sprawling development where the street/sewer/water lines per capita are far greater.
Con't: These are big draws of people who don't live in our community but come here to shop. Have you seen the back-up of traffic on a Saturday of shoppers turning to go to those stores?
We will need to accommodate that traffic for a long time into the future. Williston's longtime plans for "grid streets" will help address some of those backups. Right now there's really only one way, and one left turn off 2A from Exit 12, to Home Depot/Walmart/REI/BB&B, which causes the backup. Adding grid streets helps spread those cars out to reduce congestion.
Taft Corners was named after the Taft Farm in the area. I'd have to look at exactly which farm building it was before saying for sure. The original name was "Taft's Corner" but as the USGS stopped using apostrophes in place names it read as "Taft’s Corner," and people began using Taft Corners more as the name for the place.
They were Ash Trees that were removed by Dept of Public Works as a proactive plan for Emerald Ash Borer. They will be replaced with other trees. Go to www.town.williston.vt.usand click on “Natural Resources,” then “Urban Forestry” to learn more about Williston’s Emerald Ash Borer Preparedness Plan.
Con't: TC will need to be friendly to people with disability of any kind (assistive device user, wheelchair user, blind, or deaf, etc.).
Absolutely! Most ADA standards are set by state building code and fire safety code. Williston currently does not administer building code or fire code, only zoning code, but that could change in the future. Do you know of an accessibility/disability advocates that we can bring into the form-based code conversation? Like Meghan said in her Taft Corners Story, "'a place friendly to children is a place friendly to all."
The K-8 school enrollment rose to a peak of 1102 students in 2003, and since then has been steadily declining. We see similar trends with CVU enrollment of Williston students, although not as pronounced. Enrollment at CVU peaked in 2008, and since then has remained level or has declined slightly. The demographic trends are also pointing to smaller households: younger generations are having fewer, or no children, or having children later in life.
On the development review side (when bylaw standards are applied to proposed projects), the town is required by state statute to notify the schools (Champlain Valley School District) of proposed residential subdivisions with an abutter’s letter. In recently memory, CVSD has not commented on new residential subdivision in recent memory.
Check out the October 2020 Edition of Planner’s Corner for more info on school population trends: http://www.icontact-archive.com/archive?c=431302&f=3157&s=16894&m=500425&t=9e0af803782a10fe7aeed92d62ac198f71b46157e2ccb453fb9c46b1d38b017c
Con't: So, then, without data of actual use of current sidewalks in place, the term “pedestrian friendly” is just plain window dressing to sell a project to a town. B) There's also a high traffic volume that passes through Maple Tree Place as a way to avoid Taft Corners. C) Maple Tree Place is a "through".
Answer: That area is currently the polar opposite of a walkable environment. A sidewalk alone will not make the place walkable. The design/layout of that part of Maple Tree Place certainly does not encourage people to walk between those stores- the distances are (and really feel) too far to walk. It's good that there's a safe walkway through the Dick's parking lot, for example, but there's nothing else about that environment that encourages walking. I hope we can help the town write a code that generates true walkability rather than just building walkways! A good walkable path into consideration safety, distance, convenience and comfort. Learn more here: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/8/6/what-makes-walkability
Form-based code will include, and anticipates, the need for functional outdoor space associated with new residential neighborhoods.
Mostly financial. And maybe some physical constraints if ledge is located that requires significant blasting to remove. Developments need to make good fiscal sense and generate a return on investment. While basement-level parking is sometimes viable, underground parking may cost-prohibitive and not be viable in Williston (or even Vermont’s biggest city: Burlington) at this time. The cost is also passed onto the ender user: owner or renter, commercial or residential. For example, an apartment-building that is required to provide all its needed parking underground would rent/sell at a far higher price than surface parking. It is more cost effective and imperative to share parking especially in the near term. For example, an office and restaurant have different peak hours and can share the same parking area.
This question was live answered in the webinar. Staff will provided a written answer, check back soon.
We are keeping these trends in mind. Aging-in-place in walkable communities allows everyone, especially young kids and elderly access basis needs and socializing without a vehicle. Although Vermont’s total population (approx. 624,000) has begun to decline slightly, both the number of people and the number of households in Chittenden County are growing. As the economic hub of VT, housing for employees is listed as #2 concern from business owners in Chittenden County when looking to locate or grow in the region. As household sizes become smaller, more homes are needed for the same number of people. In line with national trends, baby boomers and millennials dominate the housing market in Vermont. Both seek low-maintenance, affordable units in convenient and walkable locations. Younger people in Vermont seeking small, affordable homes are in competition for those same homes with older people who are downsizing. The combination of a surplus of larger houses and an abundance of smaller households represents a mismatch between supply and demand that creates artificially high prices for housing.
Fun Fact: Vermont was the first of four states, along with Maine, Hawaii and Alaska to ban billboards (off-site signs). In their place, Vermont uses travel information signs along state highway corridors to guide residents and visitors to destinations that are located off those highways. Town staff are not aware of any plans in the state legislature to reverse this ban.
Williston’s local sign standards (for on-premise signs) regulate the size, quantity and illumination of signs associated with a building or use. For example, Williston prohibits internally illuminated signs. There are a few remaining internally illuminated signs in town, they are existing nonconforming and must be removed outright by 2025. Form-Based Code will likely bring clarity and simplicity to the existing sign standards (WDB 25), but not substantially change the intent or regulations.
Absolutely! The current Unified Development Bylaws includes some incentivize for affordable housing, but there are other stronger tools in the toolbox to encourage or require more affordable housing, or at affordable levels the community needs. Anita Morrison’s market study will help us make sure that the new standards make it feasible for affordable housing to be constructed.
“Affordable Housing” generally means that housing costs can be met using no more than 30% of household income. For most households, the costs of housing consume more of their income than any other type of expense. If a household’s housing expenses and income fall out of balance, its members have fewer dollars for other critical needs. In a growing number of communities, unaffordable housing has led to foreclosure, eviction, and homelessness. Lack of affordable housing puts the stability of individual residents and their neighborhoods at risk.
For example, Williston's current definition of affordable is based on area median income (AMI). The median income household income in Chittenden County is about $67,000 which translates to paying no more than $16,75 on rent/utilities or mortgage/tax/insurance. Keep in mind, affordability based on AMI means that half of the population below the median income cannot afford that home without sacrificing other life necessities.