Town of Easton Announces Public Hearing on Proposed Revised Mixed Use Waterfront Zoning Regs

Town of Easton Announces Public Hearing on Proposed Revised Mixed Use Waterfront Zoning Regs

In December of 2017, the Easton Town Council brought over three years of Planning for Easton Point and the Port Street Corridor to a close with the adoption of several documents, including the Port Street Small Area Plan.  This Plan grew initially from a Town of Easton-Salisbury University project, was subsequently advanced as one of the first priorities of the Easton Economic Development Corporation, and was subsequently formed and advanced with a highly public-participatory process that involved the advice and input of over 1,000 individuals.

As great as any Plan might be, if it is to ever be more than just a collection of good ideas sitting on a shelf somewhere, generally two things are required: (1) Investment and (2) the regulatory framework to enable the vision expressed in the Plan to actually be built.  In the case of the Port Street Small Area Plan, it was recognized early on that this regulatory framework, in the form of the Town’s Zoning Rules, did not have a mechanism to achieve that Vision.  Thus, the notion of creating a new zoning district was born, ultimately leading to the adoption (at the same time as the Small Area Plan) of a new Mixed Use Waterfront Zoning District (MXW).

The Purpose Statement of the adopted MXW regulations states that it envisions Easton Point “as an area appropriate for infill development and redevelopment of a mixed-use nature, with a wide variety of uses possible, including residential, commercial, institutional and open space.”  It goes on to add that it permits uses that “will enable the creation of a neighborhood/destination that caters to new residents, provides sources of employment, serves as a tourist destination, and provides public open spaces and Waterfront access.”

In order to advance that purpose, the Easton Planning Commission often described a vision of increasing development intensity moving inland, away from the Tred Avon.  Right along the water, the primary emphasis is on open space and public access, with options and intensity increasing the farther inland one moves.  To that end, the MXW prescribed four sub-districts, corresponding roughly to various distances from the water and each with different criteria for uses and development standards.

Even before the MXW regulations were adopted, the Planning Commission and staff acknowledged that perhaps refinements and improvements could be made to these new zoning rules.  They have thus spent the past none months reviewing what was approved and suggesting changes.  The most significant of those changes can be summarized as follows:

  1. The creation of Bonus Provisions.  This concept builds on the original or “base” development standards for such things as density, height, lot coverage, etc., and allows them to exceeded, up to a maximum level, provided that the property-owner or prospective developer pay a fee on a per square foot basis for the total area proposed to be constructed over that which would be permitted under the “base” standards. The money collected from such fees is intended to be dedicated to the provision of certain public amenities identified as critical in the ultimate development of Easton Point per the Small Area Plan.  Initially these amenities are construction of a Boardwalk, provision of Transient Boat Slips, and provision of public parking.
  2. A proposed reduction in the maximum permitted density under the base standards.  The adopted MXW standards allow up to 30 du/ac.  In discussing this issue further, the staff and Commission determined that it was unlikely (given the other development standards) that anyone would ever be able to achieve that density, or probably anything approaching it.  Thus, any increase in density through the bonus provisions, would be essentially meaningless.  It was also noted that the density portrayed in the EEDC “Master Plan” included in the Appendix to the Port Street Small Area Plan, was significantly less than 30 du/ac.
  3. A proposal to prohibit residential uses in the Water’s Edge sub-district, except for live-work units whereby someone would have a commercial use on the ground floor and live above it.  This grew out of a discussion between the Easton Planning Commission and members of the Talbot County Planning Commission and taking a closer look at the Small Area Plan which seems to indicate small retail spaces, brewpubs, restaurants, etc., in terms of use of structures in this area.

The Planning Commission now has a Draft document on which they are welcoming comment.  A public hearing on the proposed revised MXW Zoning Regulations will occur on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. in the Town Council Chambers (14 South Harrison Street).  A copy of the draft regulations may be obtained by contacting the Town Planner, Lynn Thomas, at (410) 822-2525 or via email at lthomas@eastonmd.gov.

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