Sunday, February 19, 2006

Boards To Unite On Vision For City

In a joint meeting Saturday (Feb. 18, 2006) members of the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment and Historic Preservation Commission agreed to uphold a common standard for land use within the city.

In coming years, the city will be faced with issues of affordable housing requirements, reviewing its master plan, redevelopment goals and educating the public on code enforcement standards, officials said. Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson stressed the need for all three boards to share a vision on how the city will address revitalization and quality of life concerns.

About 15 board and commission members attended the 3 1/2-hour meeting at City Hall, along with Planning Director Bill Nierstedt and Principal Planner Scott Baumann. Nierstedt said that the city will be revising the master plan this year. The last full revision was completed in 1998, with a re-examination in 2004.
The state Council on Affordable Housing will also be looking at the city’s responsibility to provide affordable housing based on growth, he said.

Municipalities will have to show how much affordable housing has been added in relation to increases in office and residential units. In recent years, a new office building has risen on the downtown Park-Madison block and the adjacent former Tepper’s department store has been converted into 75 apartments and ground-level retail space.

Nierstedt noted that on March 1, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear applications for two large new projects. Maxim Development Group is seeking approval for a five-story, 40-unit apartment building in the 900 block of South Avenue and a four-story, 64-unit apartment building in the 800 block of South Avenue.

Regarding the goal of having a new master plan by the end of the year, Historic Preservation Commission member Sandy Gurshman asked officials whether a revised zoning ordinance would follow in a “more congruent” manner than the last time. The zoning ordinance upholds provisions of the master plan and in the past, some projects that did not meet master plan goals got through because a revised zoning ordinance was not in place. Robertson assured her the process would be more timely.

In terms of past planning objectives and policies, officials said only 25 percent of them were completed. Some that need more attention include promoting the arts and focusing on “transitional” neighborhoods that need help to avoid decline.

Historic Preservation Commission member Mark Newton said code enforcement was the key to preventing decline, but the group also questioned how well city inspectors carry out their roles. Councilman Cory Storch, who is the governing body’s liaison to the Planning Board, said he advocated a “top to bottom” review of code enforcement operations last year, but he said the issue became overshadowed by public safety concerns.

Participants suggested elements for a joint mission statement that will be refined later. Historic Preservation Commission member Elizabeth King said the mission statement should include the goal of educating property owners and the public about land use boards and regulations. Other concerns were to make sure board vacancies were filled on time and to make greater attempts to include Latinos on the boards.

To accomplish the goal of getting a new master plan done this year, Robertson said, the Planning Board will devote its meetings on first Thursdays of each month to site plan review and will use the third Thursday meetings to work on planning issues.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: city planning


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