Please come to the Planning Commission's Work Session on the downtown zoning change on Tuesday Night, June 21st, at 6 p.m. (at the Police Station) and be prepared to speak, especially if you have not done so before. Since it is a work session, the public comment time will be shorter than usual, but it will still be significant. You can speak and then go out and get a creamie in the park, or stay and listen to the deliberations of the board on this important topic.
Some things to note:
1. The proposed change to create a downtown overlay district of two square blocks is not just about allowing increased height (from 65 to 160 feet), but, perhaps more disturbingly, it also allows a developer to get this extra height without providing public benefits in return. While at present a developer must provide 15% affordable housing for a building of 65 feet, he or she would have to provide much more affordable housing, or something else comparable, to achieve the 105 feet now possible. Under this new district zoning, the developer is not required to give anything more than already required at 65 feet. While David White and Joan Shannon argue that getting the streets back constitutes a public benefit, this is subjective and is not written into the law of the change they are about to make, which states explicitly that the height would be allowed "by right" without public bonuses. The streets, if they can be built at all (there is a building in the way of one of them), would benefit the developer's project as well as the citizens and do not, therefore, constitute a public benefit. In any case, there is nothing in the zoning change that would require anything at all.
2. The deliberations on this change continually go back and forth between a discussion of a general change and a change explicitly for this project. If the change is being made explicitly for this project, then it may be considered spot zoning, which is illegal. If it is being made just because, we have to wonder why all of the specifications under discussion are about the specific project, and citizen concerns about the possibility of building to the maximum build out allowed under the new zoning district regulations are allayed by pointing to the specific project. Also, the model that is promised is to be of the specific project, not the maximum build out. Spot Zoning is also defined by a development being out of character with its surroundings and by being in contradiction to a city's comprehensive plan. David White claims that this development is in character and in compliance, citing a desire for density and infill, ignoring the massive leap from 65 to 160 feet as well as the massive leap in mass.
3. The model! Lee Buffinton, Emily Lee, and Harris Roen all have expressed deep discomfort about making a decision without seeing a physical model. Jane Knodell said that she wouldn't vote to pass the zoning without seeing one (though now she seems to be hedging). But David White tells them (and us) that the model will not be done in time to help the planning commission with their decision, though it might be ready in time for the city council to get a glimpse of it before quickly voting on this important question. Insist on a physical model before deliberations continue!
4. Joan Shannon and some of the planning commissioners have been saying that giving the developer the freedom to build high would be better than just allowing him to build a bulky mass within the current zoning, but Lee Buffinton noted at last week's planning commission meeting that these are not the only two options. The either/or scenario seems like a scare tactic to force us to accept the height (or else it just reveals a terrible lack of imagination or agency on the part of some council and planning board members). In fact, as Ms. Buffinton pointed out, the planning commission may make recommendations and the council and development review board may make requirements that the developer not build a massy bulk. They have the right to withhold permitting based on design principles. Furthermore, while Joan Shannon and others conflate the opening of the streets with the height bonus, in fact there is no reason why the developer could not open up the streets without building to 14 feet, since the streets would be paid for by the TIF, by us, in other words, not by the developer.
5. All of the planning commissioners have expressed deep discomfort with the rush to give a definitive answer on this huge change. Please support them in saying No to the rush, No to the Zoning Change, No to the massive relinquishment of public and councilor/planning commissioner agency. We should not be held hostage by Sinex, David White, and Mayor Weinberger. And the councilors and planning commissioners have every right in the book to say No to this imposed vision and every responsibility to represent the people in our vision of our city.
Our Zoning for Our Community!
If you can't go to the meetings, please write your planning commissioners and councilors beforehand!!
Tom Ayres: firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Roof: email@example.com
Selene Colburn: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Knodell: email@example.com
David Hartnett: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Baker: email@example.com