RUTLAND — The city of Rutland is looking to rewrite and update its zoning bylaws for the first time in more than a decade, a move officials hope will spur economic development and enhance residential neighborhoods.
The project is funded by a $20,000 municipal planning grant the city received from the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The city is also kicking in $6,000.
Planners and consultants held a series of meetings last week across the community seeking public input on changes or recommendations for the next set of city zoning bylaws. It likely won’t be until spring or summer that a document is drafted for consideration.
“We have a zoning ordinance that was last updated in 2004,” said Tara Kelly, the city’s planning director and zoning administrator. “There are planning trends and things that have been happening that we just want to be able to wrap our arms around.”
The city’s Board of Aldermen received a brief update on the process at a recent meeting.
“I think this whole process that we’re putting in place is key to identifying the areas that we want economic development to happen and at the same time protect the neighborhoods,” Mayor David Allaire told board members.
Juli Beth Hinds, of the consultant firm Orion Planning + Design working with the city on the project, also addressed the board.
“We’re really looking at how we can enable the best future for Rutland and how zoning can become a way to achieve greater clarity and certainty for people coming into the process,” she told board members.
“Site plan design” is something that has come up quite a bit in the public comments, Kelly said an interview Friday.
That involves, she said, certain standards for developments and projects, such as landscaping and other buffers.
“Right now those things are not clearly addressed in our ordinance,” she said. “The Development Review Board often talks to applicants about putting those things in, but we don’t have clear standards, so it can create some frustration for landowners because they don’t know what’s going to be expected.”
The goal is to “create clarity,” but not be “overly onerous,” in developing those standards, she said. “We’re trying to create a balance.”
Also, Kelly said, residential density is another area of focus, taking a look at some neighborhoods where larger homes have been broken up into apartments and, in some cases, too many units.
“It’s creating substandard housing. It’s not serving the community well. It’s creating neighborhood impacts,” she said. “It goes back to how it was written into our ordinance in the first place so there is an opportunity to try to address some of the those.”
She expected that a new zoning ordinance would allow existing uses of a property to remain.
“It doesn’t correct what’s on the ground now. It just is looking forward to what feels appropriate for any new development,” Kelly said.
The city Planning Commission will draft the document along with assistance from Orion Planning + Design.
The commission has also established a zoning bylaws advisory group. That group includes representation from the Planning Commission, the Development Review Board and the Rutland Redevelopment Authority.
Allaire and Sharon Davis, president of the Board of Aldermen, are also members of that panel.
“It’s meant to have all those involved in economic development in the city to have a voice at the table,” Kelly said.
The Board of Aldermen would ultimately need to approve a new zoning document.
Public hearings are required throughout the process to gather input. In addition, a survey is planned to be posted on the city website asking residents and landowners what works and what doesn’t work with the city’s current zoning bylaws.
There will also be other avenues for public input, Kelly said.
“If there are changes around the idea of rezoning a neighborhood,” she said, “we would go into the neighborhood and have a discussion with the folks with live there.”
The current 80-page zoning bylaws can be found on the city’s website here.