New Ways to Shape Growth:
For Old Ranson and beyond

It’s this simple, said PlaceMakers’ Susan Henderson, project leader for the regulatory component of the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected project:

“The intent of this new regulatory approach is to make it easier for you to do what you’re telling us is important to you and your community.”

On Saturday, September 10, Henderson and others from the consulting team assigned to the Ranson Renewed/Charles Town Connected project discussed the role of zoning in helping to guide growth in character with the region’s character.

Under current Ranson zoning, many of the homes in the town’s historic section are considered “legally non-conforming.” Which means they’re grandfathered into current regulations but couldn’t be built in the same way today.

Community visioning exercises during the current workshop and before confirm a consensus that the character of historic neighborhoods, both within Ranson and in adjacent Charles Town, is something future planning should emulate, said Henderson. And patterns of convenience and accessibility embedded in the older neighborhoods, patterns that allow for walking and biking to daily needs as well as driving, are worth encouraging through zoning, as well.

The coding segment of the three-pronged project is funded through a grant to Ranson from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This week’s workshop is designed to integrate the HUD component with the brownfields rehab effort funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the transportation components funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). To get a sense of how the goals of the three agencies are combined in the workshop, check out the overview and videos to the immediate right, and read through the posts preceding this one.

The goal of aligning the regulatory approach of Ranson with the community’s vision will be served in two ways by the workshop. While Henderson’s planning team drafts a new zoning ordinance for downtown Ranson and expected growth areas, the specialists are also using conversations with residents and business folks to inform a rewrite of the city’s comprehensive plan to assure regulatory alignment.

Ranson’s new zoning code will be “form-based,” as opposed to “use-based.” That means the organizing theme of regulations is more concerned with the look and feel of development and redevelopment than with what’s going on inside of buildings. It’s an approach designed to enhance the experience of humans on foot by concentrating on public areas, including streets, sidewalks and building frontages. While cars are accommodated, they aren’t given the privileged status that’s complicated living and working in suburban sprawl.

At the Saturday morning session, Henderson and facilitator Jennifer Hurley assured residents and business owners they would not be “down-zoned.” Which means they won’t be subject to any more restrictions than those that apply under current zoning, provided they don’t rebuild or undertake substantial renovations.

The whole idea, as Henderson told residents on Saturday, is to legalize approaches that are currently illegal and that represent what most locals consider crucial to maintaining regional character. Before the workshop’s opening presentation on Thursday night, September 8, attendees were given choices for character elements they admired and those they wanted to avoid. See the results of that survey here (180kb .pdf).

At Sunday evening’s show-and-tell, attendees will get a chance to critique that earlier assessment of preferred development approaches and the work so far by the project team. The event begins at 7 p.m. at the Independent Fire Hall. See you there.