What's the hurry to fix density plan?
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:36 PM
"Some members of the city council believe developers ought to pay substantially more money for the right to increase density in Winslow.As noted elsewhere in this issue, downtown Winslow zoning doesn't regulate the number of dwelling units per acre. Rather, it limits the ratio of built space to total land area, dictating, for example, that 4,000 square feet of dwelling space can be built on a 10,000 square foot lot. That ratio can be increased in a number of ways. One is to buy the right to build additional square footage. A proposal now on the table would more than double those payments.The logic of this plan perplexes us.For one, increasing the cost of densifying Winslow runs counter to the oft-stated goal of encouraging half of the island's growth downtown. One objective was to reduce growth in the outlying areas. And that's only part of it - the Winslow Master Plan also calls for strengthening the vitality of downtown Winslow and encouraging a lively community. The comprehensive plan, then, encourages growth in downtown Winslow in and of itself.If higher density fees don't inhibit growth - in other words, if developers pay the money - then rents and purchase prices are likely to go up downtown. As one developer reminded us, he doesn't pay costs - he passes them on.When we're trying to maintain a vibrant retail sector, the city should be loathe to take actions that drive up rents.We're also not sure the city is somehow being ripped off by the present fee structure. The city isn't selling any property right - it has no ownership interest in the land. What it is selling is a variance from zoning regulations. If that zoning really is needed to protect the public weal, it's hard to understand how payment of money changes anything.Moreover, there is at least anecdotal evidence that growth in Winslow is easing the pressure on the outlying areas. Rod McKenzie, the most active close-in builder over the past two years, tells us that about half of the buyers of his Winslow Mews and Madison Courtyards condominiums are move-in buyers, coming from outlying areas of the island. People who move downtown create a stock of homes for sale in the outlying areas, reducing the demand for new construction.Our real concern, though, is timing. On what evidence is a two-year-old program pronounced a failure?With no manifest need for change, council action becomes fiddling rather than fixing. Because businesses need a stable regulatory environment in which to make plans, periods of council inaction make some sense.In a somewhat different context, another developer noted that the comprehensive plan is required by law to be updated every five years. He suggested that except in an emergency, regulations implementing the plan should be left unchanged for five years to be given a chance to work - and to give businesses a chance to work with them.We think that advice is sound. There is no emergency here - table the zoning issue for three years. "