Council approves zone descriptions

March 6, 2019

Rochester has two new zoning options in its toolkit.

The Rochester City Council approved two new zoning concepts Monday — a Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone and a Residential 2x (R-2x) zone.

The two options are expected to encourage greater housing density and commercial development along proposed transit corridors heading into downtown Rochester, as well as surrounding neighborhoods.

While some tweaks were made to the R-2x language Monday night, council members left the door open for future revisions.

“Any of this language is subject to future change,” Council President Randy Staver said.

At the same time, he said, he doesn’t want to see too many design restrictions added, noting such restrictions could be counterproductive.

Staver said the initial goal was to create zoning language to provide clarity for developers and limit the number of times they need to seek special council approval for their projects falling outside of what was permitted under the previous existing zoning requirements.

Creating new zoning classifications can allow developers to build alternate types of housing or retail spaces under what’s known as a Type 1 review, meaning it simply needs planning staff to determine it fits established regulations. That will make review of desirable projects faster and more routine.

“The dilemma in my mind is the more we push toward standards and trying to lock things down to give people more comfort, it would seem to me we come full circle,” Staver said, noting developers still will need to turn to the city council to seek permission to build things that exceed the standards of a given zone.

Council Member Nick Campion disagreed with Staver on design standards, saying the zoning descriptions is where city expectations should be made clear.

“There are simple design standards I’d like to see incorporated that don’t bankrupt the idea,” he said.

The primary tweak Campion sought and achieved was requiring exterior designs to be similar on all sides of new construction in the residential zone to avoid less-attractive sides facing neighbors.

The lack of design standards was among concerns raised during a public hearing before the council decision.

Historic Southwest Neighborhood resident Dennis Davey said he’d like to see more standards included in zoning requirements before zones are created, noting the change would reduce oversight by the Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission and city council.

“There’s a lot of detail missing here,” he said of the zoning language that would be used to review proposed construction.

Several of the council members said they saw the proposed zoning descriptions as a good compromise, noting they don’t meet everyone’s expectations.

“I like what they proposed; I don’t like it completely,” Council Member Shaun Palmer said. “I’d like to see some things changed, but I think this is a good compromise, and it is what we are striving for — a development that’s going to drive people and more affordable housing in neighborhoods that are close to the downtown.”

The next step for the council likely will be approving where the zoning categories will be implemented.

Maps used to identify proposed TOD and R-2x zones suggest implementation will be near planned transit corridors located along Broadway Avenue, Second Street Southwest and Fourth Street Southeast, as well as portions of East Side Pioneers, Historic Southwest, Kutzky Park, Lowertown, Slatterly Park and Sunnyside neighborhoods.

Staver requested the topic be added to an agenda for one of the council’s future weekly informational meetings to discuss concerns raised in the process of creating the zone descriptions.

“I’d just like some more clarity on that,” he said.