City may update ‘confusing’ land development rules

May 8, 2019

A proposal to streamline provisions in Rochester’s land-development manual met with encouragement Monday.

The Rochester City Council heard a pitch to trim some confusing options for developers who want flexibility in existing rules and guidelines.

“What we have today is unpredictable,” Council President Randy Staver said. “It’s frustrating to the development community and us. The more clear we can be with reducing some of the ambiguity is a good thing.”

The city’s land-development manual contains more than 30 “incentives” developers can consider if they want to negotiate options for development. The items are used as a way to provide desired outcomes for the city and developer.

For example, a developer wanting leniency on certain design standards might be willing to add affordable housing or public amenities to the project.

In recent years, some council members and others have questioned whether all the possible incentives equally benefit the city and its residents.

Don Elliott, the city’s consultant from Denver-based Clarion Associates, said in a memo to the council that many of the city’s incentives don’t provide enough benefit, indicating some should simply be part of the city’s expectations for new development.

While Elliot couldn’t attend Monday’s meeting, he has suggested reducing the possible incentives to five key benefits for the city: affordable housing, additional infrastructure, sustainable development, public amenity and historic restoration.

The remaining items, he said, could be addressed in other ways within the city’s land-development manual, which provides direction for projects being built in the city.

Elliott suggested the proposed revisions will reduce some tension in what has become a highly negotiated public process fraught with unpredictable outcomes as developers attempt to navigate the many options and expectations.

“He reiterates that refining these won’t make Rochester any less attractive to development, but rather will bring us more in line with what he’s seen across the country,” said Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department planner Ryan Yetzer, standing in for Elliot during Monday’s presentation.

Yetzer said flexibility will remain in the system to allow developers to seek leniency in some projects, but the proposed changes would better define when such leniency can be offered and provide developers more direction regarding the city’s expectations.

Council members supported the direction of the proposed revisions, which are expected to return for further discussion at a later date.

In a related item Monday, the council approved a change to the land-development manual to allow for vertical subdivisions, which offer the opportunity to develop allows multiple separate airspace parcels with separate uses to be stacked under a single roof.