Northfield Zoning Ordinance: Only a Test

May 4th, 2009 by Peter Schmelzer

I’ve been participating in the Northfield Land Use Ordinance Advisory Group lately.

The group consists of citizens, staff, board/commission representatives, and consultants. Some of the other civilians are architects, engineers, developers and builders. Together, we are trying to forge a new zoning ordinance for Northfield.

We have found the task to be challenging and engaging. It is not simple to codify the goals, direction, and aspirations of the Comprehensive Plan. The process has involved reiterative input, revisions and feedback about the ordinance.

One of the key issues is making the code both restrictive enough to protect the Northfield we value and flexible enough to invite and encourage development. In the residential realm, initial comments suggested that the code should be less restrictive of design elements and materials, and the code was loosened in response.

To test how loose the code had become, VIVUS volunteered to conduct and experiment. we selected a lot close to downtown and assumed that we had acquired the lot after a devastating fire. What could we rebuild on this lot without violating the zoning ordinance? I’ll tell you this: many of the Advisory Group members agreed that my test house was quite undesireable! It was actually a triplex (three, 1800 SF units plus full basement) with a look-out basement, tall and wide, occupying a huge portion of the site and only very minimally responding to its surrounding context. See the images below. Disclaimer: this is not representative of our design goals!



Truth be told: In conversation with the Advisory Group, our test house could have been flat-roofed, taller, and wider that what I proposed, all of which would have made it less visually attractive and less in step with the Eastside Neighborhood.

It appears that there is more work to do if the new zoning ordinance is intended to protect our historic neighborhoods from insensitive infill development. We’ll meet again on Friday to continue our efforts.

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