Friday, February 22, 2013

Latest Salemtown Neighbors compromise on overlay still fails to live up to democratic process

Salemtown's neighborhood association sent out their minutes today. In the report was an update on discussions held at the last business meeting (which I did not attend) on the proposed conservation overlay:

Conservation Overlay: This process is well underway and all paperwork has been filed with Erica Gilmore .... the lengthy discussion on this important issue is summarized below.

  • SNNA is responsible for the cost of notifications, including mailings and signage.  The cost for this is estimated to be about $2,000, but we have been advised to set aside approximately $3,000.
  • SNNA voted in 2012 to pursue the overlay, and the current executive board endorses it.
  • However, this will require a budget amendment and/or running a deficit.  Fundraising is an option for making up the difference.
  • The area being considered is 3rd Avenue to 7th Avenue north of, but not including, Hume Street. The guidelines would apply to any new construction and any significant street-facing renovations.
  • The most significant aspect of the guidelines is a height restriction much lower than the current restriction of 45 feet.  This would make construction of 3 or more stories extremely difficult, if not impossible.
  • One alternative to the Conservation Overlay is an Urban Development Overlay, but this would require us to start the entire process over.  Another option is to amend the currently proposed guidelines to be more flexible on height restrictions.
  • Many people voiced a concern of how to ensure the character of Salemtown while not tying the hands of quality developers who are willing to work with us. Also, there are also a lot of concerns about some new development that appears out of line with the existing charm and character of the area.
  • If the overlay is pursued in some form, it will serve to give us more leverage in future development.
  • There was a motion to amend the current overlay guidelines regarding height restrictions to be more in line with that of Germantown.  The motion passed.

These events do practically nothing to address concerns already expressed that the 2012 Executive Board trampled all over the democratic process to get the appearance of a plurality on a conservation overlay. I am still not convinced that the consent reported (and I've never seen hard data on the survey results) by the officers was adequately informed and thus reliable.

While softening height guidelines may satisfy developers, who as a group tend to oppose restrictions anyway, that is not enough to win my support for this overlay. The process matters more than the ends-means fallacies currently floated as justifications for not starting over. However, if starting over to pursue an Urban Development Overlay is an option, that's the one I would prefer. If we're going to pursue an overlay, lets do it right this year.

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