Wednesday, January 02, 2013 • 11:31 AM Comments ()

Zoning Ordinance in 2013? Dare We Hope?

posted by Maureen Turner

It’s been more than 40 years since the city of Springfield enacted its zoning ordinance, and six years since work began to update it. Think of it this way: if the proposed zoning changes were a person, she’d be in kindergarten by now. Carrying a Shaun Cassidy lunchbox and a textbook that refers to the U.S.S.R.

Last week, city residents and planners got the frustrating news that the proposal to dramatically amend the city’s zoning regulations—for the first time since they were passed in 1971—once again failed to move forward. As Pete Goonan reports here, the proposal, which was sent to the City Council’s planning and economic development committee in September, died there after councilors failed to act on it within the required 90 days.

That was just the most recent of many delays the proposal has seen; some big developers have fought the proposed changes, apparently inspiring some city councilors to keep it perpetually on the back burner. While not surprising, the latest delay nonetheless had neighborhood activists pulling out their hair and, in one case, biting their tongue; Gloria DeFillipo, of the Pine Point Community Council, told Goonan, in response to the news, “I can’t even tell you my reaction. You won’t be able to print it.”

Here, Katie Stebbins, chair of the city's Planning Board, writes about the “major heartbreak” of seeing the proposed ordinance die in committee and makes the case for its passage, which she argues would allow the city to make thoughtful, comprehensive development decisions. “If we are going to aspire to be as great as the places we choose to vacation in, the places we admire, then we must have a modern zoning ordinance to guide the momentum of that growth,” Stebbins writes.

The ordinance in place now, she notes, was created in 1971. “Does anyone think that 1971 development was a good thing? I look at that era of development and gag. Parking lots and concrete.”

Stebbins calls for more neighborhood commercial districts, which, she writes, “anchor a sense of community—something Springfield is losing. Zoning, which seems so abstract, is important. The passage of the new ordinance has been hijacked for 6 years by the same private interests that have been gutting the remnants of our neighborhood commercial districts for years. Neighborhoods they do not live in. Neighborhoods they do not want to live in. Residents who are fighting for their own quality of life spoke in favor of the ordinance, several times. Yet, it does not pass.”

Stebbins’ post also includes, valuably, a link to the final draft of the proposed new ordinance, all 287 pages of it.

Meanwhile, Councilor Bud Williams, chair of the planning and economic development committee, has said that the ordinance will come up again in the new Council session and that he expects to have a final version completed “in the very near future.” Williams, alas, did not offer his definition of “very near future.”

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