Planning commission aims to keep Hinesburg like Hinesburg

Staff Writer

Eleven potential village design standards took up most of the discussion at the Hinesburg Planning Commission’s Sept. 11 meeting.

There are 11 areas where the commission is considering if and how they would like to amend the town’s village-area design standards:

  • Setbacks
  • Permeability (the ability to see into commercial buildings through doors or windows)
  • Rear and side parking
  • Street grid
  • Architectural variety
  • Building height
  • Streetscape and building details
  • On-street parking
  • Multi-story buildings
  • Maximum length of building façade
  • Minimum frontage buildout

Director of Planning and Zoning Alex Weinhagen developed the list for the commissioners so they could decide which issues they wanted to consider changing within the current standards.

“Maybe all 11 of them require additional language or revised language, maybe not – maybe the current regs adequately address regulations,” Weinhagen said

Design standards for whole or areas of village?

If the planning commission decides to amend the design standards, planning commissioner Marie Gardner questioned if it should apply to the whole village area of Hinesburg or to certain areas. She was also was concerned about which standards should be required versus those which should be encouraged.

Gardner and Joseph Iadanza questioned whether they wanted to add regulations about building height or how many floors they want to encourage or require. There are currently no regulations regarding either of these.

Weinhagen said that the density of development being planned for will likely require multi-story buildings.

“The Kinney Drugs project is a good example of that,” Weinhagen said. “There was a lot of debate about whether Kinney Drugs should be a single-story development as it was originally proposed or a multi-story building with additional uses on the second floor. In that case, it landed that it is a single-story building, but obviously all the other buildings around it are multi-story buildings. So, it’s a little bit blended there.”

He said Kinney Drugs and the surrounding buildings illustrate how the roofline can be varied. He suggested requiring new buildings to conform to the percentage of stories or buildings heights around it to encourage variety.

However, Iadanza said he believes the commission imagines Hinesburg won’t have buildings taller than three stories.

Weinhagen pointed out that the current density bonus grants an allowance for additional height for non-residential buildings, “so you could get another floor.”

But Weinhagen said his office tells developers that, until the fire department gets an aerial fire ladder truck, even three-story buildings are “very difficult for fire protection.”

The commission indicated they would like Weinhagen to develop language that might require multi-story buildings along main streets such as Highway 116.

“We’ve kind of cordoned the town in a good way,” said commissioner Rolf Kielman. “We’ve placed emphasis on preservation of the hinterland. That means you make compact, walkable, dense and, in many cases, slightly taller structures in our village area.”

Encouraging architectural variety

James Donegan said he thought that architectural variety was a priority standard they should consider.

“We address that in almost every meeting we have,” said planning commission chair Maggie Gordon. There was general agreement among the commissioners that, although architectural variety standards are in Hinesburg’s code, they need improvement.

“It doesn’t prevent four buildings in a row from having the exact same look,” Weinhagen said.

He discussed permeability and the difference between buildings with windows that are just gray and opaque and buildings whose windows give some indication of what happens inside, such as display windows.

Speaking of the Highway 116 side of Kinney’s, Weinhagen said, “That streetscape in front of Kinney’s doesn’t really encourage people to shop on the outside of their store, to step up to the outside of their store next to their front door and peruse the merchandise.”

He contrasted this with Aubuchon in Hinesburg, where more people seem to interact with and examine the merchandise outside.

The commission discussed how in Vergennes and Bristol, there are chairs and tables outside stores and restaurants that encourage people to eat outside.

The commission asked Weinhagen to develop some design standard amendments that would address windows. Barbara Forauer said she didn’t like fake windows, especially on second stories.

Kielman supported having restrictions against monolithic, or uniform blocks of buildings. He said the average width of buildings in Hinesburg is 30-50 feet.

“I think that having some kind of breakage in the length is a good idea,” he said.

“It’s a real conundrum in Hinesburg because some communities have historic downtown cores that you can look to and say, ‘If new development’s happening over here, let’s emulate and respect what’s there.’ And we just don’t have that,” said Weinhagen.

The planning commission wants to encourage more dense development in the village area, but they don’t have good examples of a historic town look to use as guide for design standards, he said.

A Hinesburg solution for Hinesburg

That said, Weinhagen added that the town should choose design standards that work for Hinesburg.

“I think it’s important to do these things and recognize that it needs to have a Hinesburg solution, a Hinesburg rural village solution, which may look a little different than a Vergennes village solution or a different community,” he said.

Commissioner John Kiedaisch suggested using the buildings on the same side of Highway 116 as the Town Hall, but one block south, as the standard.

“Maybe it’s not a hard standard,” he said. “Maybe it’s between this and that. Something like that proportion could be a standard for development on whatever size lots,” he said.

Kiedaisch said he thought that the drawings that Kielman presented at the previous meeting were a good representation of “what we’ve got started here.”

“I was suggesting something like that in very, very few locations,” said Kielman. He agreed with those who have said that “there needs to be some differences in how we tackle different parts of our village.”

Another of the 11 standards was encouraging a street grid. Kiedaisch said a street grid doesn’t need to be straight, parallel streets. He said it was important that a future street grid have many ways to connect to various locations and those connections could be curved, following the dictates of topography.

“I can see that happening on the BlackRock property, too. There is a variety of topography there. There are places that slope more than others and it’s not just flat. It’s not Kansas. I think it adds character to a neighborhood,” Kiedaisch said. “Grids yes, but straight lines no.”

BlackRock is a construction company developing 75 acres just north of the town’s business center on the west side of Route 116. The site will eventually have more than 100 homes in a mixture of single-family, multi-family and senior living buildings.

The planning commission requested that Weinhagen develop language for them to consider that would encourage on-street parking.

The discussion on the 11 village area design standards concluded with the planning commission failing to discard any.

“So, I think I’ll just draft you up a little something on everything and we’ll go from there.” Weinhagen said.

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