Planning & Zoning Meeting Minutes
January 10, 2012
The Planning and Zoning Commission for the City of Cambridge met on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at the City Council Chambers, 305 Gay Street, Cambridge, Maryland.
Commissioners in Attendance: Jerry Burroughs, Chairman; Hubert Trego; Joy Loeffler, Dorchester County Liaison; Mary Losty; William Craig, Vice Chairman; Marshall Rickert; Dwight Cromwell; Gage Thomas, City Council Liaison
Others in attendance included: Anne Roane, City Planner & Robert Collison, City Attorney
Comprehensive Re-Zoning - Our New Concept Re-Zoning Ordinance
Ms. Anne Roane welcomed everyone. This is a work session; they are not voting on anything. Chris Jakubiak, AICP President with Jakubiak & Associates, Inc., is going to introduce some of the concepts he is proposing with the new zoning ordinance; he has a power point presentation. Stu Sirota is working with Mr. Jakubiak.
Chris Jakubiak said he and the Planning Commission (PC) had a meeting in November 2011 and the topic of form based codes came up. The PC asked him to work through those issues and come back with a presentation to help define what it is he means when he is talking about form based code or form based type of zoning ordinance.
Mr. Jakubiak said this is a public meeting; they want comments from the public and any interested parties. The purpose of tonight's meeting is to introduce the project, its goals and to introduce the approach, the zoning in downtown and the waterfront development district.
Cambridge adopted a new innovative comprehensive plan and he thinks it is one of the best in Maryland. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected Cambridge as 1 of 32 communities in America and that was quite an honor to participate in a sustainable community's building block plan in June 2011. There was a national recognized urban plan there and EPA folks. They talked about zoning techniques and place making ideas. Afterwards the City received a grant, CoastSmart Communities Initiative Grant, one of the few in the nation, and the zoning ordinance which is being funded by the grant which will help implement the comprehensive plan. Cambridge is in a pretty interesting track for good innovative urban development and planning work. There are not many communities in Maryland that are getting the same level of attention and making the same level of progress as Cambridge is right now.
The comp plan embraces the great potential of Cambridge. It prepares the City for a bright future where economic and ecological aspects are wedded together. The plan has a strong ecological focus smart development focus. It distinguishes it from what most towns and cities are doing. He thinks that is why it came to the attention of EPA. There is a good understanding of the resources available here, the underlying resource base. They did a land suitability analysis; they look at sensitive areas for flooding, soils, sea level rise, wetlands and forest. They recommended low impact development, new storm water management, a general greening of the City as re-development takes place over time. Importantly, in addition to these green aspects, they focused on re-vitalizing downtown; that is probably the most strategic effort to build sustainable development is to direct development where existing infrastructure is. There is a strong commitment to re-vitalization in the downtown waterfront development district. That is a major feature of the comprehensive plan.
The goals of this project to go with the comprehensive re-zoning are:
To help us realize that vision in the comp plan.
To modernize the zoning ordinance. It is out of date; it is not in touch with where Cambridge is today. Specifically, they want to bring about an overall reduction in pervious surfaces, increase stream buffers and promote resource conservation. To show a way to resolve the challenge that is presented by the storm water management guidelines and their need to promote good urbanism and walk ability in Cambridge.
Facilitate re-development of the development district. That is a very important goal of this comprehensive re-zoning process.
- Planning Commission said simplify, simplify, simplify, illustrate, make the zoning ordinance something they can use; make it look like the desired outcomes they want for the City.
There are 3 phases in the overall work program.
- To amend the zoning ordinance. They started that towards the end of September 2011. They have a meeting on February 7, 2012 with the PC and they will be presenting the first draft of recommended changes to the zoning ordinance on procedures and zoning categories and how they can begin simplifying the code. The PC has already seen a draft outline presented toward the new zoning ordinance.
- The work that is being funded by the grant is to introduce basic guidelines for ecological site development. These guidelines will not necessarily be put into the zoning code, but they will help inform how the City moves forward with site plan review and development review particularly in the area of re-development. This has been a topic of discussion among the builders in the community for awhile on how to build in a way that is compatible with the community. They are doing their best practice research right now and they want to present that research to a committee of building industry here and local folks who will be recruited at tonight's meeting and others to help them have a citizen perspective on what is a good ecological site development. They are in the process now of preparing a technical memo that they hope everyone will read and bring to their discussion so they can take that national research and make it something that Cambridge can use. Some of that will fit right into the zoning ordinance.
- Community outreach and work sessions. The PC has had work sessions. They want to have the entire document finished in August 2012. The end of September 2012 is the deadline for grants. At some point beyond this date, it will go to the City Council for a public hearing and adoption.
Mr. Jakubiak said they can think about having two citizen type of committees to help him to formulate these recommendations and someone to bounce ideas off of in two areas. One is sustainable design standards and re-development standards. The other is downtown zoning; form based zoning purpose for downtown. He is looking for a small working group of interested citizens who will help them formulate these recommendations and to give them local insights.
Mr. Jakubiak wants to re-organize, simplify, modernize the zoning ordinance and incorporate low impact and conservation development practices into it with special attention to downtown and waterfront district and advance the progress the City is making so far. He wants this document to point the way to more grants that will help the City in implementation in building projects.
In summary, the zoning ordinance has a map that divides the City into a variety of zoning districts that could be residential, commercial and industrial. Cambridge has 14 districts and has the possibility to create several more. It is a cumbersome set of zoning districts right now.
Stu Sirota said he has put together a slide presentation on form based codes to walk everyone through what they are, how are they used and how could they apply here. Mr. Jakubiak is potentially developing a form based code for the downtown development district, not for the town overall, but just for that focused area.
A form based code is a concept that has been around for 10-12 years. It was a response to decades of what they call conventional zoning which is all about use. It is a use base ordinance that tells what use it is such as housing or shopping and where does that use go. The idea was that uses need to be separated. If there is housing in one area then schools, shopping or factories are in different places. Everything was about separating uses and there was an implied understanding that they were all going to be able to get from one use to the other by driving back and forth. What happened was these zoning ordinances became very popular and very efficient at helping the suburbs grow, but at the same time cities like Cambridge that existed that was never built in that pattern, started to get zoning ordinances that were largely based on those same principals and it became very difficult to be able to replicate that kind of fine grain human scale urban fabric under these new zoning ordinances. In some ways the towns became illegal almost.
In the late 90's and early 2000's the strong movement of bringing back towns to their former glory and making new places that were more walk able and more compact and had that finer pedestrian friendly scale, there quickly became this understanding that to build places or to work on places like that they needed new tools. Zoning was a big part of that. Form based codes sprang up as this idea if one wants to enable place making and walk ability and pedestrian friendly places that have a balance of uses and that are just as accessible for drivers as they are for the people, they need new zoning tools. Form based codes is what they really want to use and it has come on the scene in a big way in the last few years or so to help get there. Form based codes foster walk ability, compactness and that human scale mix of uses that conventional zoning doesn't address too well.
Mr. Sirota continued with his slide presentation on form based codes.
Jay Corvan commented on the merits of form based zoning.
Roman Jesien is a Cambridge resident and he asked if the grant is only for the downtown area. Mr. Jakubiak said the grant is for updating the zoning ordinance, but it is being funded to promote sustainable practices incorporating sustainable standards in their zoning ordinance using the ecological study they did in the comprehensive plan to drive the zoning regulations. The grant is for the rewriting the zoning ordinance which applies to the entire municipality.
Mr. Rickert said the PC has had a lot of conversations with Mr. Jakubiak on Rt. 50 Corridor about ways the zoning ordinance can incentivize re-development of existing abandoned properties or a franchise wanting to modernize. There are other forms of incentive there. It may or may not be applicable in the downtown, but it is the same general concept in trying to come up with ways to deal with all of the franchises that have left on Rt. 50. There are also very good examples of what they want to see like Walmart, Walgreens and soon to be a new McDonalds.
Mr. Jakubiak said Dorchester Avenue runs parallel with Rt. 50. He thinks it is a prime spot for a small shopping district and offices tied to the hospital and to Rt. 50. It is a great development site. The way the U.S. Corridor is now will not exist in 20 years; the U.S. Corridor is going to be better and different. He would love to see a good form based code dealing with the entire corridor. The roads that run parallel to Rt. 50 and Rt. 50 will fill in the space by multiple connections and shared access points. In the short term, he wants to provide the PC with the heightened review requirements to realize those benefits and still provide the developers the flexibility they need to get their buildings into that frame.
Ms. Roane said every one needs to know the difference between standards, guidelines, shall, may and could. This PC has been successful in being able to get a higher level of design and architectural standards regardless of the fact that they are not necessary. The commercial re-development in particular on Rt. 50 and new development has been willing to work with this PC.
Mr. Trego said they need more of the public to buy into the City. It is easy to say that if someone cannot find something in Cambridge, then they have to go elsewhere to get it. Cambridge's image needs to be turned around.
Ms. Roane said they should be thinking about what Dorchester Avenue will look like 20 years from now anticipating that it will be re-developed. The Port property will be re-developed and that area will be in her view an area of interest.
Ms. Roane said before they did the comprehensive plan, before this project, they discussed how to deal with getting a higher level of design and a higher level of control of what happens. At that time one of the tools they had was extending the PWCD (Planned Waterfront Community Development) because it had design standards and guidelines. The Maryland Avenue, Cedar Street, Dorchester Avenue, the geographic area of town, they recognize is going to be of interest.
There was discussion that aerial photographs would be helpful to look at Dorchester Avenue, Maryland Avenue and Cedar Street. Ms. Roane said she could provide that. Mr. Jakubiak said he will send them an aerial photograph image of where the boundaries of those corridors are and how they might fit into this form based approach. Ms. Roane said Dave Harp, a professional photographer, lives in Cambridge and has taken numerous aerials is very generous in allowing them to use those in different applications.
Ms. Roane said they will see Mr. Jakubiak again on February 7th. Mr. Jakubiak said he wants to spend time on procedures and tax amendments that are necessary. He will have something for the PC to review in time for that meeting.
Mr. Jakubiak was asked to give more information on the citizen's group mentioned.
Mr. Jakubiak said he would like to have two citizen groups that would help him formulate recommendations and help the City with the recommendations later on. We will have local people who have been involved in preparing them outside of the structure of the City government. One of the committees is Sustainability Practices. They will be developing a guideline document for the City, but they will also be writing text changes for the zoning code that will deal with storm water management techniques, landscaping design for sites. The other committee is the Downtown Form Based type of approach.
In his opinion, if they had 3, 4, 5 or maybe more people they could send e-mails on these specific ideas to get the feedback. Afterwards he could meet with them the same days they have been coming here to meet with the PC to manage the budget properly, and develop our joint understanding. Then they will come to the PC with the recommendations and present them for their review and consideration.
Mr. Jakubiak had sign in sheets to sign up for both of those committees.
Mr. Rickert mentioned during the kick off meeting they talked about standards of grants which have a fixed time frame. They are working on one year which is now an eight month time frame. It will have to be concentrated and focused so that they can have an end product by a fixed date to present to the Mayor and City Council.
Roman Jesien said this meeting was not announced and not many people knew about it. This is an important process with so little representation; just to find out about it took a lot of effort. He suggests better advertising so more people will know about it.
Mr. Jakubiak said February 7th is the next work shop. The work shops are all scheduled for Tuesday nights. If he could get interested people in each of those two committees by February 7th, he would be very happy. He would like to meet with those people individually on both committees before the PC meeting so he is only making certain trips to Cambridge. He would sit down with those groups and describe what it is that is coming up and what their goals are. On March 7th is the next public meeting; it will be a meeting like this where they will update on where they have been. The PC will be able to say what they learned at the February 7th meeting, what they have tentatively agreed to so far and where they are in the process. It is a check-in with the public. For those committees it will give us a chance to hear from them too. On May 1st is a PC workshop. On June 5th there will be another public hearing much like tonight.
There was discussion from the audience that there is a sense of frustration because people are interested in this and they are trying to keep up on things, but it is very difficult. People write things to various people, but they do not know if they received it or not. People do not know what changes are made to any kind of text until the meeting and they do not have any text of the meeting or any text that incorporated change. Mr. Rickert said they are coming out of the organization stage at this point.
Commissioner Gage Thomas suggested furthering the cause by getting on the Council's agenda for January 23rd for briefing and update from the Council and the public about form based zoning. It would be another opportunity to inform the public.
Ms. Roane said she will get an announcement, a request for volunteers and get the schedule for the February meeting. She will contact both the newspapers. She will have it all up on the website by the end of the week.
Mr. Jakubiak said at the public meetings that is where he will do a presentation for the PC and the public will get a chance to say all of their comments there. Read comments are always welcome. If they send them to Ms. Roane, she will send them to him.
There was discussion about whether to have the meetings at Council Chambers or at the Dorchester County Library. Ms. Roane said as soon as they decide which location they prefer she needs to know so she can reserve the place for the meeting. As it stands now the next meeting is on February 7th at the Council Chambers.
It was properly moved and seconded that the meeting be adjourned at 8:34 p.m.
Anne D. Roane
Note: These minutes were approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on December 20th, 2012.