Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Too much by FAR

A nearly mind-blowing moment at the end of the Zoning and Planning committee's meeting last night.

The committee spent 3 hours performing close textual analysis of the latest version of the Planned Multi-Use Business District (formerly Planned Business District) amendment. Around 11:00 o'clock, committee chairman Brian Yates polled the members on their willingness to pass the to-be-further-edited version to the full board.

It looked like there were going to be 4 or 5 Yea votes, when Alderman Danberg reversed course, bringing Alderman Burg and, ultimately, Aldermen Baker and Lappin around. With a solid consensus on holding the item to be re-advertised (a new notice of public hearing), it looked ready for a non-controversial hold vote.

Then Alderman Yates dropped his bombshell.

I couldn't write fast enough to keep up, but Alderman Yates said, in essence, that the PMBD is completely inappropriate for Newton. The PMBD proposes a level of density that can only be supported by an urban level of transit. Had he known that the Business 4 and Business 5 districts allowed a floor/area ratio (FAR) of 3.0, he would have never let it happen. He's going to wipe out a 3.0 FAR in Business 4 and Business 5.

The floor/area ratio is the most basic limit on how much a site can be developed. The higher the FAR, the denser the development. The FAR of Business 4 and Business 5 are important because they are the underlying districts for the PMBD. Planning Director Mike Kruse and some of the aldermen, including Alderman Baker, have said that the PMBD cannot have a more restrictive FAR than the underlying district. Otherwise, the developer would not have an incentive to use the PMBD and would build out according to the Business 4 or Business 5 opportunities.

It's tough to convey in writing just how impassioned and sincere -- indeed angry -- Alderman Yates was. It was a bracing tonic to the previous three hours of his corny jokes and lighthearted interruptions.

Alderman Yates' comments raise some interesting questions:

  • Are there 9 other aldermen who share Aldermen Yates' view? If so, the PMBD is doomed.
  • Since the item is going to be re-advertised, does it make sense to take a look at the Business 4 and Business 5 FAR at the same time?
I don't see how his comments won't have some effect.

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