Friday, September 28, 2012 • 8:49 AM Comments ()

No Zoning Ordinance for You!

posted by Maureen Turner

For crying out loud, did the City Council really once again delay action on long-delayed revisions to the city’s zoning ordinance?

Why, yes—yes it did.

At a public hearing earlier this week, councilors voted to send the proposed zoning ordinance—six years in the making—back to committee for yet more review. At issue: some councilors’ apparent fears that the changes would take away some of their power and grant it instead to the city’s Planning Board, and opposition from developers worried that the changes wouldn’t be good for their interests.

The proposal has, however, won broad support from neighborhood groups, who argue that it would modernize and simplify the city’s existing zoning ordinance, which hasn’t been changed in 41 years. Ah, but then change never comes easy in City Hall, does it?

At Western Mass Politics and Insight, Matt Szafranski offers a wonderfully detailed account of the contentious meeting. (After the meeting, one savvy, frustrated Springfielder described the experience to me as “theater of the absurd.”) Szafranski notes city planning professionals had to defend themselves against councilors’ suggestions that the new ordinance amounted to a power grab by the Planning Board. “Planning Board member Katie Stebbins … [said] that greater inclusion of the Planning Board, a group of well-trained professionals, would be good for the city,” he wrote. “ ‘This is not a group of dunces,’ she said fighting back arguments against empowering the Board.”

“The current zoning ordinance is forty years old, ancient relative to other New England cities. It appears that the money and influence of developers is holding back change. That long-serving at-large councilors are exposed to it is unsurprising,” Szafranksi wrote.

“However, should ward councilors, too, be deferring to a few, often non-residential influential individuals over residents, it could spell trouble for fundamental reforms the city needs to bring into the modern era.”

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