Friday, October 14, 2011

Council Approves Commercial/Residential Zones

After months of work, we approved Zoning Test Amendment 11-01 that adds changes to the County’s Commercial/Residential Zone (CR Zone) and will greatly influence the scope of future development near Metro stations. The changes will encourage more urbanized, mixed-use development in those areas, allowing neighborhoods to evolve with retail, restaurants, services, entertainment, offices and near public transportation.

The Planning Board proposed ZTA 11-01. In our reviews, we made significant changes in the ZTA. Our revisions better protect communities by limiting land uses in CR Neighborhood zones, increase respect for master plans by implementing them through site plans, add increased incentives for affordable housing and create more certainty for communities and developers by clarifying the sketch plan process.

The ZTA provides incentives for developers to build near Metro stations. Current Commercial/Residential Zones allow for buildings in some circumstances to be between 16 and 27 stories high. To get permission to build, developers must meet specific criteria, which award “points.” Developments closer to Metro stations qualify for more points than those further from the stations. The new regulations clarify the criteria to get points, while also adding more options for developers to add points. For example, making buildings more environmentally friendly would earn additional points.

By this week’s adopting of two additional series of zones with lower building heights and density than allowed by current mixed-used zones, the Council will have more flexibility to respond to the competing demands of commercial and residential property owners reflected in master plans.

Future development will be required to get site plan approval to a greater extent than current standards, providing increased opportunities for the involvement of neighbors.

Those developing under the new zoning will be able to choose from a longer list of land uses. Dense development will still be required to provide public benefits, but development in the new zones will have to provide fewer public benefits than currently required on higher density mixed-use development.

The Commercial/Residential Neighborhood (CRN) and Commercial/Residential Town (CRT) zones were developed for areas where there are smaller properties, lower densities and more challenging economic conditions than where the Commercial/ Residential (CR) zones apply.

The new zones are structured like the current CR zones. The total floor area ratio (FAR), the residential FAR, the non-residential FAR and the maximum building height are identified with each zone.

One zoning series will apply to areas where existing commercial zones are located next to single-family residential neighborhoods. Another zoning series will apply to areas where requiring too many public benefits might impede redevelopment.

The allowed land uses and development standards vary with each zone. The CR Neighborhood zones would have the most limited land uses of the three commercial/residential zones.

Optional method development—where developers are often granted permission to build higher structures than would be permitted under regular zoning in exchange for providing certain public benefits—would not be allowed in CR Neighborhood zones.

The CR Zones will apply in some aspects to the future stops along the planned Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway, depending upon provisions of master plans for those areas.

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