Thursday, December 07, 2006

Toward a Flexible But Firm Mixed Use Zoning Ordinance

12.06.06 Ogden Planning Commission Notes

The Ogden City Planning Commission got back to discussing large-scale rezoning issues last night, with a two-hour hearing on the issue of whether to amend Ogden zoning oridinances to include a new city-wide Mixed Use Zoning ordinance (The Ellison Ordinance,) which would give developers the option to throw out existing zoning rules for designated projects, and to substitute custom-crafted mixed use zoning under city-developer development agreements.

The hearing had been continued from November 1, 2006, at which time the MU ordinance issue had been joined with another ambitious proposed zoning amendment, a proposed major overhaul of the city's existing Sensitive Area Overlay Ordinance. The previous hearing had extended into the wee hours on November 2, thus requiring that the MU ordinance discussion be continued to last night's hearing.

The MU zoning ordinance discussion had of course been complicated earlier this week, with the Ogden Sierra Club's startling revelation on December 4, 2006, that the new proposed MU ordinance had actually been drafted in substantial part by would-be Mt. Ogden Parklands developer Chris Peterson's attorney, Tom Ellison.

The hearing began at 5:10 p.m. with a 20-minute power point presentation by Planning Department Director Greg Montgomery, wherein he attempted to explain the rationale for the new MU ordinance (so-called,) and tried to put Mr. Ellison's contribution into publicly-palatable context.

The Planning Commission had been at least vaguely addressing the MU concept for several years, Mr. Montgomery explained. The planning department had been looking into a general purpose zoning approach which would allow greater planning flexibility than the "traditional euclidian" approach he said. Creative development in Ogden had been recently hindered by antiquated zoning rules, he argued, and city planners needed a more flexible approach, in order to incorporate mixed uses which are contemplated by the city's general plan. We must be "proactive," Mr. Montgomery said.

Using the example of the ongoing River Project, Mr. Montgomery argued that, lacking a proper MU ordinance, the city had been forced to cobble together changes and variances to the existing CBD ordinance with compromised success. The rigidity of existing rules, including set densities, set-back requirements, etc., had hampered the efforts of both city planners and developers in optimizing project design plans for the River project. Similar problems would arise in the future, Mr. Montgomery argued, as further development projects come on line.

He elaborately denied that the "model ordinance" provided by Mr. Ellison was necessarily Peterson "project specific," contending instead that Mr. Ellison's submitted ordinance had been modified by Planning Department staff and the city legal staff, to constitute a general-purpose ordinance, which would provide the flexibility that city planners need, as rail transit and other development catalysts arrive in Emerald City, with the anticipated development interest which these will likely generate. In essense, the new MU ordinance, the final draft of which was available in August, 2006, would allow the city Planning Department to assemble development plans "on the fly," without the hindrance of harsh, inflexible set standards. This latter "feature" of the new ordinance is also its chief publicly-perceived weakness, as the following paragraphs will reveal.

Mr. Montgomery's power-point comments were followed by an hour and forty five minute public comments session, during which a parade of intelligent and highly articulate citizens marched to the podium serially, registering their objections and criticisms of the proposed MU ordinance. Notably, not a single citizen spoke in favor of the new ordinance.

Citzen comments are summarized as follows:

Chris Bentley: MU is a decent idea. The City of Sam Francisco uses MU for its successful neighborhood developments. It's an insult to the intelligence of Planning Commission members, though, for Mr. Montgomery to suggest that this is a long-time project, given the final draft was available only last August.

Sharon Beech: 1) The new ordinance doesn't require mixed use. It's merely an option. 2) The specific ordinance isn't designed for small neighborhood development; it's designed for large-scale resorts, which are not included in the general plan. 3) Peterson asked in July for a specific MU ordinance; and this ordinanceis exactly what he asked for; thus it IS project-specific. 4) Development agreement zoning is too cost intensive and cumbersome, and a similar approach has been rejected in Summit County. 5) The new ordinance ignore environmental issues entirely.

Allison Mulder: MU will affect Mt. Ogden neighborhood trails, a unique Ogden city amenity. I'm a Boston Transplant; and am familiar with overbuilt city infrastructures. The Mt. Ogden Parkland "feeds my soul;" I didn't locate to Ogden for the commercial amenities like shops and restaurants.

Mary Hall: (Former Emerald City Councilwoman) Compare the master plan at the mall. There have been lots of changes. The General Plan calls for varying levels of uses. Adopt appropriate standards & uses which are lacking in this ordinance. Standards are necessary. The Ellison Ordinance doesn't address standards.

Jim Freed: Mr. Freed reeled off a long series of specific statutory language objections, including a need for more specific standards, financial guarantee provisions, trails protection, and the need for filed EIR statements.

Jo Anne Lawrence: The problem is that this ordinance is primarily geared toward greenspace development. I object to development in "sacred" open space. This ordinance apparently doesn't protect greenspace. The timing is bad. Perception is everything.

Jock Glidden: Hypothetical -- If Mt. Ogden Park were carved out and protected in perpetuity, would the Ogden planning staff be as eager to enact this ordinance? What's the rush?

David Smith: This would be the 35th zone in the Ogden City zoning structure. DO we really need MORE zones? The procedure should call for proposal specifics. Why the carte blanche approach? Let's be deliberate about this.

Deb Badger: (Former city attorney and counsel in several private development projects) There are two types of developers: 1) those who want to know all the rules at the outset, so they can conform their developments to known standards; 2) those who want everything to be flexible, so they can "slide" their plans to approval without restriction. Both types however want to know what's going on next door; and this ordinance gives them no way to predict this. The concept of using development agreements as a substitute for prescribed standards is out-dated; The modern trend is moving away from developer agreements, according to a business professor at BYU who's studied this issue. Summit County has rejected the development agreement-oriented zoning process after working with the concept for a while. Don't re-invent the wheel. Devise a MU ordinance that promotes consistency, not ad hoc jury-rigging.

Lynnette Belka: Zoning by development agreement is out-dated. Offered a zoning manual for PC review. The manual doesn't even mention development agreement zoning as an option.

Theresa Grijalba: (Economist) MU zoning can promote economic development with proper prescribed standards. Open space requirements will be overlooked with proposed ordinance, in that developer-driven market forces generally don't prefer open space requirements. Open space protection needs to be included in any final ordinance. General minimum standards for all developments also must be provided up front.

Shalae Larsen: (Former planning commissioner) I've worked professionally with private developers in many states. I am a proponent of "traditional-style" mixed use zoning. Rigid euclidian zoning inhibits the growth of healthy communities. Having said that, the proposed no-standard ordinance creates 3 concerns: 1) predictability; 2) consistency and 3) lack of minimal standards. Planning must also be context sensitive. The term "proactive ought to be defined as pre-defining and identifying appropriate mixed use sites... and then adopting appropriate pre-defined standards.

Dan Schroeder: In order to be proactive we must create a MU ordinance to be applied in advance -- in conformity with the existing general plan. The General Plan doesn't call for MU development in open space. "Waiver" provisions in this and the Sensitive Zone Overlay amendment proposal are problematic. The River project has been in process for almost 4 years. Why are we just getting around to doing this now? We need set standards to enforce consistency from project ot project.

Wayne Aprill: If we remove the legaleze, can a developer over-ride ANY zoning restrictions without PC approval? What happens if a developer with a partly-completed project "blackmails" us for additional concessions, once an project has been started and a project site has been scarred? This proposed ordinance is a "slippery slope."

James (?): The proposed ordinances takes control from the Planning Commission and citizens. Ogden would be better off by allowing the tweaking" of current ordinances.

Alice Holder: We need firm pre-defined standards in any new MU ordinance.

Jay Hudson: We've been getting repeated national press write-ups touting our open space. Will we be reading a Sunset Magaizine article soon, bemoaning the fact that we've thrown it all away?

Bryan Dorsey: I'm going to be blunt. This ordinance is designed for Chris Peterson. The Planning Commission staff are also under extreme pressure to accomodate Peterson. Look at the alternatives. The proposed ordinance is TOO FLEXIBLE.

Rob Garner: (Former PC member) I've stood in th ecurrent members' shoes. This proposed ordinance tellingly addresses annexation issues, indicating it is geared for Peterson. The timing is questionable and unfortunate. The existing CBD rules can be effectively modified. The city needs control over a project, particularly with respect to time standards. The ordinance is NOT based on "best practices."

Following the citizen comments session, Mr. Montgomery again took his opportunity at the podium for clarification and rebuttal. His retorts:

The existing CBD ordinance isn't good enough. The city needs more flexibility.

The slow reaction on the River project was due to the sudden Ernest Health pull-out. The planning department had relied on Ernest, and was caught relatively flat-footed.

The General Plan isn't site-specific. We need a "custom" approach.

Mr. Montgomery's comments were follwed by a fairly robust discussion by and between various planning commissioners. It appeared that the "lack of standards" argument had gained traction with the commisioners. It was obvious that numerous commissioners were concerned about that possible ordinance flaw.

Late in the planning commission dialogue, Ms. Blaisdell, Commission Chair, attempted to put together a consensus among the various commissioners on issues about which all members were in agreement. In this connection, the entire commission "appeared to agree" that a mixed use zoning ordinance was desirable, and that the development agreement approach was a favored one. We say "appeared," because these issues were never put to a formal vote. Our perception was that the discussion had fallen into confusion, and that a retreat to another work session would be the ultimate result.

Indeed that was the final decision of last night's planning commission. meeting.

The matter was tabled for further discussion in a January 24, 2006 work session, with somewhat vague instructions to Greg Montgomery's office to provide further information.

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