Narberth's Borough Council will see a leap in the amount allotted to its Zoning Code Review on Dec. 28 when it meets to approve the 2012 budget. But the figure won't be a surprise.
For the past year and a half, the borough has been reviewing Narberth's zoning code and taking steps toward making it more applicable to the town's style, which began formulating between 1910 and 1940 as Narberth grew.
After doing research on form based zoning – a type of zoning that adheres more toward physical shapes than types of uses, such as commercial or residential districts – and debating between a few planners to assist the borough, Narberth will pay the Montgomery County Planning Commission $8,000 a year for three years to help redevelop the zoning code. The total cost of the project is $50,000, but since Narberth is in Montgomery County, the county will accrue half the cost.
The initial draft of the 2012 budget only allotted $5,000 for the Zoning Code Review. If passed by council, $12,000 will go toward the review.
Though Borough Council Vice President Aaron Muderick said there haven't been too many problems with the current code, being proactive will help Narberth avoid future issues, he said. As buildings age and need replaced and development continues, the current code may not have the best parameters for a borough with such individualistic looks on each block.
"Change in a place like Narberth is really incremental," said Sean Metrick, who will serve as the community planner for Narberth on behalf of Montco, where he is a senior planner. "When people do alterations to structures or rebuild, [the borough] just wants to make sure it fits in with the pattern of the town."
Four new homes at N. Wynnewood and Sabine avenues, which replaced a decrepit Spanish-style home, stand as examples for how newly built structures aren't necessarily to scale with older residences, Borough Manager Bill Martin said.
"The homes on North Wynnewood are about the same size as the existing homes," Martin said, "but the homes just built on Sabine are a larger than the ones prior."
Noting the homes still blend in well, Martin said considering form based zoning would have made the homes on Sabine Avenue more to scale with that block in order to absorb the intricacies of the area.
To do this, the code, which Metrick said would probably be finished in a year, would have to be highly flexible to accommodate what local leadership is trying to preserve.
"The present code is pretty simple," Metrick said. "It's silent on the way buildings should look."
Legally, the borough wouldn't be able to mandate the style of new developments or renovations, but it can define size regulations and density, which remain key to Narberth's quaint charm.
Though Metrick worked with Landsdale Borough to create a residential zoning code with elements of form based zoning, the method hasn't been explored fully in within the county or Pennsylvania, Montco Section Chief for County Planning Brian O'Leary said.
"With 62 municipalities and different land uses, it's difficult to have a big idea take hold," O'Leary said. "There's a certain resistance to change until at least one community does it."
"Narberth may be the first," he added. "It seems to be in the right state of mind, and it has a lot going for it. It's small. The general sense within the community is that they like how it is."
For now, nothing's for sure. Despite numerous meetings, the budget hasn't passed yet and the process won't officially begin until after the first of the year. Metrick, who was in Narberth this week taking photos to help visualize the code, will also be at public meetings, which Martin hinted won't necessarily be quiet.
"It is absolutely not a done deal that form zoning is what we will use," Martin said. "There will be a lot of meetings, and this will go before the public, and the Narberth people don't hesitate to speak up."