Zoning for Democracy, Part 2

As Newark’s planning director & chief urban designer, 2007 Loeb Fellow Damon Rich’s most recent success (following establishing the city’s first urban design review, launching its first public art program, completing the city’s first riverfront parks and riverfront rezoning, and more) is a complete overhaul of the city’s zoning codes to craft a more livable, equitable and inclusive city. In Part 1 of our 3-part series , he described the historic background of the project from inside the 101-year-old Newark Planning Office and framed the on-the-ground challenges of writing Newark’s first new zoning in 60 years. Here in Part 2 he details the results of the years of meetings, writing, public comments, drafts, revisions, hearings and votes: NZLUR.

PART 2: MAKING THE NZLUR: REGULATORY IMAGINATIONS

The Newark Zoning and Land Use Regulations (NZLUR, nicknamed  NUZZ-LER) contains rules governing the uses and design of buildings as well as many other parts of Newark’s built environment, including landscaping, parking lots, fences, signs, and storm water management. The first comprehensive update of Newark’s development laws in the 1950s, NZLUR simplifies and modernizes the way Newark’s zoning deals with building uses in pursuit of the classic zoning goals of preventing nuisances and improving quality of life. NZLUR eliminates out-of-date uses like leather tanneries and pool halls and consolidates many others, based on what Newark residents and businesspeople have identified as development conflicts. At the urging of Newark’s large community of environmental justice advocates, NZLUR clarifies manufacturing and industrial definitions for potentially noxious uses, where possible using definitions tied to state and federal standards.

To leverage Newark’s value as a walkable city, NZLUR includes common-sense design standards for buildings. These ideas grow from the successful 2009 implementation of zoning reforms for Newark’s most common building types, two- and three-family houses, which focussed on improving the quality and safety of Newark’s streets. NZLUR sets standards for window area, front setbacks, and the location of primary entrances to keep eyes on the street. Rather than requiring variances for not meeting the supersized spatial requirements of the old code, NZLUR encourages infill and buildings that contribute to the public realm. To create streets and public spaces that fit our city, NZLUR references the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide. While many conversations about zoning proceed as if “form-based” and “Euclidean” approaches are mutually exclusive, we followed the advice of Carlos Rodrigues in his useful report “Form-Based Codes in New Jersey” and added enhanced form-based provisions based on 15 generalized buildings types.

NZLUR’s design regulations address the aspects of building design for which there is most agreement on the desirability of having rules: height, lot coverage, minimum window area, relationship to the sidewalk and street, maximum impermeable surfaces, maximum fence height, opacity and entrance locations.

NZLUR also includes dozens of procedural improvements to the operations of the Planning Board, Zoning Board, and Landmarks & Historic Preservation Commission. While these bodies and processes were originally established to create some limited democratic control of development, Newark is far from the only city where these putatively public processes have become inhabited mainly by attorneys and other real state professionals. In response to the feedback of residents and community-based organizations, simple mechanisms have been adopted, such as the requirement to post notice about development applications on the site of the proposed development. Also, while applicants previously were able to request adjournments before a board without mailing new notices, such an option has been eliminated.

At the Municipal Council’s final public hearing and vote on February 4, even though the meeting was at icy midday, citizens and representatives from groups across the city came to testify and urge adoption. Part 3 will dig into how the NZLUR constituency was assembled.

Read Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.

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