Springfield Zoning- “I’m Sexy and I Know It!”

Watershed moment- the private developers who have been opposed to the new Springfield Zoning Ordinance appeared at the Planning Board hearing on May 1st and spoke in SUPPORT of the new ordinance. Planning Board member Gloria Defilipo was so excited, she whipped out her camera and took a picture of the two men standing at the podium. I applaud them for the public display of support.

It has been almost seven years since the process began to replace the current zoning ordinance with an entirely new one. This is no small undertaking. Replacing an entire set of regulations is cumbersome, tedious and at times, confusing. It is an endurance race that only planners and lawyers could enjoy. Adopting a new zoning ordinance requires robust debate so the end product is implementable. Springfield, in partnership with countless voices at the table, has done just that. The new zoning ordinance is now rounding the last turn on the track, headed to City Council at the finish line with no opposition (except maybe their own).

I headed home after the vote on Wednesday, proud of my government and the residents who have stuck by this process. I smiled, realizing I am even more proud of our new zoning ordinance- a sexy little minx of regulatory fun.

One of my planning school professors once told me, “there is a zen to zoning”. A well written zoning ordinance should read like a tourism guide. Zoning should be a page turner that has the reader imagining what is possible- not cringing at what is impossible. The new Springfield zoning ordinance does just that.

First, the new zoning allows a huge amount of new flexibility for home based businesses. The modern economy of entrepreneurs and innovators requires that the home support a family’s productive capacity. Small business is the documented leader in our local economy and the Springfield zoning ordinance will now recognize that and cheer it on. A nationally innovative part of this is the “Market Garden Ordinance” that is a part of the new agricultural regulations. Under the (still) current ordinance, homeowners are prohibited from selling produce from their own gardens to neighbors and friends. Oddly, this is common nationally! Springfield is now among a handful of metros that endorse the productive capacity of one’s own backyard. Small scale community supported agriculture or “market gardens” will now be allowed on any property under 5 acres in Springfield. Brilliant!

Next, like many industrial cities, Springfield has turn of the century mills that are underutilized. As a way to maximize their potential, the new ordinance allows industrial live/work space. This flexibility will allow for the creative economy to co-exist with the residential community in our former mills. Excellent!

In addition to new uses and allowances, the zoning ordinance is laced with language that describes the kind of well planned and aesthetically pleasing community I want to live in. “The soul of the City” is conveyed through statements of intent and descriptive definitions. A reader of the new ordinance will encounter “Residential Renewable Energy Facilities”, “community gardens”, “farmer’s market”, and “historic resource properties” to name a few. And then there’s the “sexual encounter center”…huh? See- it’s even a bodice ripper at times like  “50 Shades of City Planning”!

This is a huge leap forward for Springfield. It’s not perfect. But it does provide Springfield with the tools to manage land use in a modern economy. I have every confidence that our esteemed elected officials will see their way to the yes vote.

My personal thanks to everyone who stayed in this race and never gave up on our awesome city.



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