Floor area ratios, setbacks, building heights, infills, ground floor elevations, maximum lot coverage, and more.
It can all sound a bit bewildering, but these zoning guidelines have been shaping the town’s residential and commercial buildings, and thus its streetscapes and neighborhoods, for decades.
But officials say the town’s zoning code has evolved into an outdated and complicated patchwork of amendments. They want to update the code so it’s simple and clear while being much more in step with the characteristics that residents like about the town.
But the public must be engaged in the process if it is to succeed, Zoning Director Wayne Bergman said Friday. “We can’t do this in a vacuum,” he said.
With that in mind, the town is encouraging residents to attend a zoning “kick-off meeting” on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at 9:30 a.m. in the public meeting chambers at Town Hall.
“This will be an opportunity for our entire consultant team to provide a very brief update on what we have done so far while also laying out the path forward,” Bergman said.
The consultants are Sean S. Suder, a lawyer and planner and principal of Cincinnati-based ZoneCo.; Joe Corradino, president of The Corradino Group, headquartered in Miami; and Joe Nickol, principal of Yard & Co., based in Cincinnati.
The consultants have been meeting with town officials and “stakeholders,” including preservationists and architects, for months, gathering information and perspectives.
The zoning code review and reform process won’t swing into high gear until the week of Feb. 27, when a four-day public engagement period will begin. Consultants will meet with residents and groups around town while also setting up public zoning workshops, known as charrettes, at the fieldhouse in the Mandel Recreation Center.
Bergman said Tuesday’s kick-off meeting is important because it will let the consultants know what is on residents’ minds. That, in turn, will help them to design the charrettes for maximum engagement and success.
Residents at Tuesday’s meeting will hear directly from the consultants on what the town is trying to accomplish and why. They also will have an opportunity to interact at five “stations” that will focus on three different geographic areas of the town – the North End, Midtown and the South End – and on how the charrettes fit into the process.
“We want this to be interactive,” Bergman said. “The consultants will go over some terms commonly used in the zoning world. Residents who have an interest in the different geographic areas will have a chance to identify their concerns.”
For example, in the North End the town is experiencing intensive redevelopment of interior lots where buyers have been razing older houses to make room for larger dwellings that are changing the character of the streets or neighborhoods.
“In the North end, we hear that the houses are very large for their lot sizes and the [yard] setbacks are too small,” he said. “In Midtown, there are the same concerns, but there is also a commercial element.”
The South End, which is dominated by large multi-residential buildings, has its own set of zoning concerns, which involve parking and building safety in the wake of the Surfside condominium collapse, Bergman said.
Residents will have an opportunity to write down their opinions and concerns on paper so the consultants can review them in advance of the charrettes. Alternatively, they can also register their opinions in an online survey by logging onto pbzoning.org, a new website set up by the consultants.
Jennifer Hofmeister-Drew, who is a planner in the town’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department, said zoning code review also presents an opportunity to simplify and streamline the code.
“Right now, there are nine definitions of building height,” she said, illustrating how complicated the code, has become since it was first drafted in 1974.
Bergman agreed. “The code is 40 years of patchwork that really creates a whole lot of exemptions,” he said. “We would like to reduce a lot of that, if not all of it, and just have simplified tables.”
The zoning review, which also includes a companion parking and traffic study to be performed by The Corradino Group, will continue for at least a few more months after the charrettes are concluded, Suder has said.
The ultimate goal, he said, is a zoning code “tailored to and for Palm Beach.”