Northampton’s Rezoning Subcommittee consists of two city councilors (Michael Bardsley and David Murphy) and two members of the planning board (George Kohout and Kenneth Jodrie). They are charged with coming up with proposals as to who should sit on a Rezoning Committee that will distill the Sustainable Northampton Plan into new proposed rules and regulations. As these new regulations could have deep and lasting impacts on the city, the question of who will draft them is sensitive.
The subcommittee held its second meeting at Forbes Library on June 30. Michael Bardsley summarized the process to date, and two citizens made presentations. They were Joel Russell, chair of the Northampton Design Forum, and Jim Nash, vice president of the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association. Several other citizens observed and made comments. At times, the meeting had the air of a Best Practices workshop as the participants tried to balance the values of inclusiveness, due deliberation, expert guidance, efficiency and effectiveness.
Here are two Google videos that cover virtually the entire meeting (a bit over 80 minutes in all), with about a one-minute gap between the videos due to camera changeover. The next meeting of the Rezoning Subcommittee will take place in Forbes Library (mezzanine level) at 5pm on Monday, July 28. The public is encouraged to attend.
At the June 30 meeting, Jim Nash circulated a “Proposal for the Creation of the Rezoning Committee”, prepared by the Ward 3 Sustainable Northampton Plan Study Group (with special thanks to Owen Freeman-Daniels). We are pleased to reproduce it here:
Proposal for the Creation of the Rezoning Committee
The creation of a Rezoning Committee is the first concrete step in the implementation of the Sustainable Northampton plan. That this step be made in a manner consistent with the spirit of the entire Sustainable Northampton process is critical. The plan asks that City Council, the Planning Board and the Mayor to select officials and community representatives that will serve on the committee.
Create a Rezoning Committee comprised
of officials and community representatives as
selected by the Mayor, City Council, and Planning
Board. Task the Committee with rezoning
the City so that zoning is consistent with
the Sustainable Northampton and Future Land
Use Map. A listing of zoning changes to be
considered by the rezoning committee is included
in Appendix A of this Plan. -Sustainable Northampton, page 13
Here, and throughout the document, the Rezoning Committee is given various tasks to complete in conjunction with other agencies. This proposal tries to discern from Sustainable Northampton a method for creating the Rezoning that is firmly based in the plan yet also highlights critical process left un-addressed. By discerning where the plan is clear, we find it informs us on actions where Sustainable Northampton is vague, in particular, the composition of the Rezoning Committee.
Outline of Discussion
- The tasks of the Rezoning Committee
- The interaction the Rezoning Committee will have with other agencies
- The composition of the Rezoning Committee
The Tasks of the Rezoning Committee
The Rezoning Committee is given five (5) different tasks within the Sustainable Northampton plan. However, from examination of these tasks we have discerned a sixth task, an action that the plan itself asks the Rezoning Committee to use time and again as its guide in its deliberations.
- Interpret the map
- Recommend zoning changes consistent with SN and the Land Use Map
- Review and revise cluster regulations
- Consider circumstances that prevent the loss of commercial and industrial land
- Encourage affordable housing
- Review Potential Regulatory Actions in Appendix A.
1. Interpret the Land Use Map. It is the foundation tool for all tasks. We believe it has been purposely left vague to foster rich discussion on zoning and, in turn, the implementation of the Sustainable Northampton plan. The Rezoning Committee will be charged with wrestling with the meaning of this map. (The Planning Board is also responsible for the task of interpreting the Land Use map.)
2. Recommend zoning that is consistent with the Sustainable Northampton Plan and corresponds to the Future Land Use Map contained within the plan (pg 13 and referenced above). “Maintain a distinction between rural areas, residential neighborhoods, and urban areas” (pg 16). Again there is a great deal of gray area where interpretation and building consensus will be important. The Planning Board has offered some Potential Regulatory Actions in Appendix A to assist with fleshing this discussion out.
3. The third task is to adopt revised cluster regulations as proposed by the city’s 2003 Grow Smart process when it is judged that cluster ordinance ‘does not provide the optimum designs’. (pg 16) It is unclear who will judge this possibility, and also unclear whether it will be on a case-by-case basis, only specific areas of the city, or in a broad ordinance. Regardless, the Rezoning Committee is tasked with proposing revised cluster development regulations.
4. The fourth task of the Rezoning Committee is to consider exclusions and special circumstances when trying to prevent the loss of commercial and industrial land from becoming residential. (pg 34) Here the Rezoning Committee is solely given the task of giving exceptions to land use restrictions.
5. The fifth task of the Rezoning Committee is to provide options to increase production of affordable housing. (pg 43) Again the Rezoning Committee can be seen as comparable to other agencies, though its specific role is undefined. Based on the other tasks given to the Rezoning Committee earlier in the plan, it is a good assumption that the committee would be part of a zoning or regulatory process that would make affordable housing easier to produce.
6. The sixth task is to review the Potential Regulatory Actions provided by the Planning Board in Appendix A of the Sustainable Northampton Plan. These suggestions are to encourage discussion and are not to be adopted wholesale.
The overall task of the Rezoning Committee is to initiate the process of creating regulations and zoning that is consistent with the Sustainable Northampton plan. The Rezoning Committee is both big-picture focused (as evidenced by the broad, large-scale aspects of tasks 1, 2, & 6) and also detail-oriented (as evidenced by tasks 3, 4 & 5). Because of this multi-leveled approach, it follows that the Rezoning Committee have both creative, goal-oriented members as well as those with expertise in the areas of zoning and land use. Because of the requirement to consider exclusions, special circumstances, and be responsive to problems with cluster development and affordable housing, clearly the Rezoning Committee will not be a one-time gathering or single-issue ad hoc committee. While the Rezoning committee will have a limit to its duration, it will also require considerable time to complete its tasks and therefore members will need to make a significant time commitment (length to be determined).
The Rezoning Committee’s Interaction with Other Agencies
The Rezoning Committee is given numerous important tasks but is solely charged with very little. As Sustainable Northampton clearly indicates, each Rezoning Committee task requires working in communication with numerous committees: City Council, the Planning Board, Economic Development office, Office of Planning & Development, Mayor and the Mayor’s office, Housing Partnership, Housing Authority, Community Preservation Committee and the Zoning Board. The need for effective communication between these bodies will be essential.
The Planning Board is the only agency that shares all the responsibilities of the Rezoning Committee. The City Council is second sharing 4 of the 5 tasks. This indicates that the Rezoning Committee’s close collaboration with the Planning Board and the City Council will be necessary for the implementation of the goals in the Sustainable Northampton plan. (For the reason of facilitating communication between these workgroups, it is recommended that a portion of the Rezoning Committee be representation be from both the City Council and the Planning Board.)
The relationship between the Planning Board, the City Council and the Rezoning Committee is not explicit in the plan. The most straight-forward interpretation of the Sustainable Northampton plan “task[s] the [Rezoning] Committee with rezoning the city so that zoning is consistent with the Sustainable Northampton and Future Land Use Map” (pg 13), then acknowledges that of course a public process involving the Planning Board and the City Council is requisite for all zoning changes (pg 69). This straight-forward reading calls on the Rezoning Committee to take an active, leadership role in proposing plan-related zoning regulations, which then go through the Planning Board and the City Council. Note this does not preclude the City Council or the Planning Board or the Economic Development office from developing its own proposals. Yet as discussed earlier, zoning changes that are part of or related to the Sustainable Northampton plan are also to be considered by the Rezoning Committee (pg 13).
The committee’s interaction with other agencies should be considered one of collaboration and information sharing. Evidence for this is that all the tasks given to the Rezoning Committee are also shared by numerous other agencies. The Rezoning Committee is also part of the procedure when considering zoning regulations that are related to or part of the Sustainable Northampton plan. Because no other agency has specifically been tasked with ‘rezoning the city’ (pg 13), it is reasonable that the Rezoning Committee will be responsible for proposing many of the changes that will then go through the Planning Board and to the City Council.
Composition of the Rezoning Committee
Recent discussions about the composition of the Rezoning Committee have revealed a variety of overall desiderata:
I. The committee should have expertise in City operations (City Council and the Planning Board)
II. The committee should be small enough to operate efficiently
III. The committee should contain members that represent the various relevant constituencies in the city that are essential for Sustainable planning
For the composition of the Rezoning Committee, Sustainable Northampton offers no further specific guidance other than calling for ‘officials’ and ‘community representatives’. Both groups require further definition.
Within the Sustainable Northampton plan, ‘officials’ are contrasted with ‘residents’ or ‘members of the community’. (pgs 4,5,29,63,65) This contrast doesn’t imply that officials aren’t also residents or part of the community, but rather that when they act in their official capacity they are acting as officials. It is clear that throughout the plan the community is contrasted with a city official, who may be elected (pg 65) or undefined (pg 41). It follows from this reading that ‘officials’ are in some way connected to city governance whether by election, appointment or employment, while ‘community representatives’ are members of the community through other community organizations or channels. Examples of these other community structures are business organizations, environmental groups, and village/neighborhood associations.
The first criterion can be satisfied by the officials on the Rezoning Committee. The second criterion is a function of the process of reasonable selection. If all like-minded people are on the committee, it could operate efficiently with 15 or 20 members. The assumption behind criterion II is that diverse interests will be present on the committee; a smaller size will limit the diversity that could cripple its effectiveness. This assumption is underwritten by criterion III.
The Sustainable Northampton plan does not indicate directly that any members of the City Council, Planning Board, or the Mayor should be on the Rezoning Committee. The plan only calls for these agencies to select the members of the committee. This proposal argues that members from both the City Council and the Planning Board should be on the committee to satisfy two important considerations, brought out earlier in this proposal:
I. To provide expertise on zoning law and the technical aspects of land use.
II. To facilitate communication between the agencies with which the Rezoning Committee will be continually collaborating.
Analysis of the plan shows that the Rezoning Committee is asked to collaborate with the Economic Development office on 3 of its 5 charged tasks, while dealing specifically with the Mayor on only 1 task. A member of the Rezoning Committee from the Economic Development office (or that office’s chosen representative) is a salubrious choice for the tasks of the Rezoning Committee.
Anywhere from 3 to 5 members of the Rezoning Committee should be officials from the city. This proposal is for those members to be drawn from the City Council, the Planning Board, and the Economic Development office.
There are no explicit instructions in the plan on how to pick the community representatives on the Rezoning Committee. However, there is no reason to interpret the plan to suggest that only city officials would be voting members on the Rezoning Committee. Given that the plan later calls for the potential zoning changes to be subject to ‘public review’ and ‘discussion’ (pg 69) while presented to the Rezoning Committee, it would be redundant to have non-voting members of the public on the committee while also having a public review process. There would effectively be no distinction between non-voting members of the committee and participants in a public review procedure. Therefore the committee should have community representatives who are full voting members.
This proposal contains 4 different constituencies from with the Rezoning Committee should draw its community representatives. The first three representatives are based on Sustainability Theory. Development is considered Sustainable when it attends to the needs in three societal areas: Economy, Environment, and Social Equity. Therefore, the Rezoning Committee should have representatives from these social networks. Following this line of thinking, the fourth representative should be a developer familiar with Sustainability and an establish track record around such development.
1. A representative from the Business or Industrial community (Economic)
2. A representative of Environmental, Conservation or Open Space interests (Environment)
3. A representative from Northampton’s distinctive Neighborhoods (Social Equity)
4. A representative from the Construction or Development industry
This proposal asks that the Community Representatives be sent, rather than chosen, to serve their area of expertise so that organizations that specialize in the critical areas of Sustainablity.
The proposal is that each constituency provides one or many nominees to the City Council, Planning Board and Mayor. These nominees should each fulfill particular roles in the community and the proposal outlines a list of three desired aspects of each organization or nominee in what follows.
1. A representative from the Business or Industrial community
The Rezoning Committee should have a representative from a business or industrial representation body. The agencies responsible for selecting the members of the Rezoning Committee will ask such an organization for 1 or more nominees. Such an organization should have the following aspects:
- Be a local business organization with primarily local businesses as members
- Represents diverse business interests, not just one industry
- Has displayed commitment to Northampton’s economic growth
Possible organizations: The Chamber of Commerce, The Rotary, The BID
2. A representative of Environmental, Conservation or Open Space interests
The Rezoning Committee should have a representative from an organization committed to preserving open space, using agricultural land responsibly, or local environmental issues. The agencies responsible for selecting the members of the Rezoning Committee will ask such an organization for 1 or more nominees. Such an organization should have the following aspects:
- Be a local organization that focuses on environmental issues that specifically affect Northampton
- Promotes community use of green and open space
- Supports agriculture within Northampton
Possible organizations: Broad Brook Coalition, Audubon Society
3. A representative from Northampton’s distinctive Neighborhoods
The Rezoning Committee should have a representative from an organization that is made up of neighbors from Northampton’s traditional residential areas. The agencies responsible for selecting the members of the Rezoning Committee will ask such an organization for 1 or more nominees. The group should be from a neighborhood that has the following aspects:
- Contains many homes dating prior to World War II developments
- Is considered a ‘Traditional Neighborhood’ with mixed use buildings as given by the Sustainable Northampton plan
- Contains large parts that are slated to be rezoned in accordance with the Sustainable Northampton plan
Possible organizations: Ward 3 Neighborhood, Florence Civic and Business, Elm St Historic
4. A representative from the Construction or Development industry
The Rezoning Committee should have a representative from a designer, contractor, developer or builder. The agencies responsible for selecting the members of the Rezoning Committee will identify companies that have the below-listed aspects and ask them for a nominee. Such a firm should:
- Have a history of both commercial and residential construction in Northampton
- Submit a representative that lives in Northampton
- Has a familiarity with Smart Growth Development, preferably an established record of Smart Growth projects in Northampton
The Rezoning Committee should have at least 4 members as community representatives. This proposal is for those members to be drawn from the Business, Environmental, Construction, and Neighborhood constituencies.
Notre Dame Urban Design Studio Project Slated for September 7-13
The Design Forum, whose members include Northampton citizens interested in fostering quality urban design, decided to invite the Notre Dame University Urban Design Studio here in September. The Notre Dame group will consist of six graduate students led by Professor Philip Bess, who described the program at a public presentation held on June 2. The students will spend a week engaging with the community and offering design recommendations following the principles of sustainability and traditional urban design.