Transitioning Rochester’s development guidelines won’t come without question and challenges.
That was the message Don Elliot, a director with Denver-based Clarion Associates, offered Rochester City Council members Monday.
Clarion Associates is creating the city’s new Unified Development Code, presenting drafts of the six-chapter document in three parts.
“You may get comments saying ‘I don’t know what to say until I see the rest of it,’” Elliot said. “Fair enough, but doing this in installments helps people understand, especially citizens.”
The first installment is being publicly reviewed, with Monday’s council presentation being followed by discussions with area builders and a public webinar on Tuesday.
The 90-minute public online presentation starts at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/93819204754.
Then, on Wednesday, the latest draft will be reviewed by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, during its 6 p.m. meeting in council chambers of the city-county Government Center. Online access details are available at http://rochestercitymn.iqm2.com/.
Elliot said it’s all designed to put the information in front of elected officials, developers, residents and anyone else who wants to see the changes being made. The goal is to generate questions and address them.
The process started before the public draft was finalized, as city staff raised questions when an earlier version was available. Elliot and his team work to understand whether proposed changes fit the overall mission behind the code.
“We have not just deferred,” he said of challenges, noting city staff and the consultants worked to understand each other’s suggestions.
Cindy Steinhauser, Rochester’s director of community development, said recommended changes were often based on established city council priorities and experiences in local development efforts.
Still, questions remained Monday as council members sought to understand the path that was starting to unfold with the first installation.
Council President Randy Staver encouraged Elliot’s team to keep in mind that changes need to balance predictability and flexibility.
“It’s a challenge,” he said. “We can’t necessarily have it both ways.”
Staver also said he’d like to see how proposed changes would have affected past development.
Elliot said the concerns highlight the questions that might emerge with the slow revelation of the new code.
He said the balance between flexibility and predictability will be seen in the final installment, which is slated to be completed in mid-2021.
As for comparing outcomes, he said city staff will be able to test scenarios after the second installment, which covers development standards, is drafted.
While some answers may sit with future sections, Elliot said it doesn’t mean questions can’t come throughout the process.
“You have not forfeited to comment on any part of it,” he said of moving onto future sections. “There will be at least three or four more rounds.”
He said comments and suggestions will be welcome and considered up until the point the council votes on the final code, which is slated for the first part of 2022.
Responding to questions raised about affordable housing options, Elliot said he believes the new code will provide flexibility.
Austin Flanagan, a Clarion associate, said the changes in the first installment highlight some areas with a more restrictive approval process, but they are outnumbered by areas with a more lenient process.
Elliot said it will likely provide more housing options, if developers want them.
“I feel very strongly that we have not added regulations,” he said, asking council members to send him any concerns about specific language in the latest draft.
In addition to Tuesday’s webinar, City planner Ryan Yetzer said he’s planning a series of less formal online conversations about the proposal to address questions and gather community input.
They are set for Nov. 5 and Nov. 6 via Zoom, with links and background information on the city’s website.