In Fraser land use updates, what are overlay districts?
When the town of Fraser updated its land use and development codes last month, they included two new zoning districts: the Riverwalk Mixed Use Overlay District and the Victoria Village Overlay District.
But what exactly are overlay districts, and how do they work?
Essentially, they are supplemental zoning districts draped over existing districts, in this case two areas zoned as business, which allows the town to take away or add land use regulations. In other words, they allow the town to add and subtract land uses to specific areas without having to rezone them.
“So the Riverwalk Overlay District goes on top of the business zone,” explained Catherine Trotter, Fraser’s town planner. “But there are some incentives to being part of the riverwalk, and there are also some restrictions. For example, we didn’t want things like gas stations to be allowed down by the river. So before that potentially could have been a permitted use by right, and now that’s not an allowed use.”
The Riverwalk Mixed Use District includes a number of plots in between Park and Mill Avenues on the east side of the railroad tracks, and west of the Fraser River. The Victoria Village District is much smaller, and is located north of Park Avenue between North Zerex Street and Sterling Way.
Both districts include several departures from the underlying business district in commercial, industrial, institutional and residential uses. For example, while business districts permit marijuana dispensaries, motels and motor vehicle shops as commercial uses by right, they either aren’t allowed or only allowed by conditional use due to the overlay districts.
Almost no industrial uses are permitted in the overlay districts, and the Victoria Village District is stingy with institutional uses, not allowing hospitals, performing arts facilities or convention facilities. The Victoria Village District also adds group homes to permitted uses.
The overlay districts also provide incentives like density bonuses for developers willing to either deed restrict affordable housing units, or create mixed-use developments that are 100 percent commercial on the ground floor.
“The thought process behind the overlay districts was to try and incorporate some of the recommendations from the Fraser strategic plan, and make them into policy,” said Trotter. “So the purpose was to provide for development that kind of fosters the creation of high density, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. We’re looking to showcase the Fraser River while integrating it with the Fraser Historic Downtown.”
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