Frequently Asked Questions

Trenton’s new Land Development Ordinance will be a key tool for implementing many of the policies contained in the recently adopted “Trenton 250″ Comprehensive Master Plan, as it will regulate the use of land and the siting and design of new structures. Effective regulations are dependent upon a careful understanding of existing patterns of land use, development, and ownership, as well as an agreement as to how the policies of the Comprehensive Plan are interpreted and applied throughout the City. Informed input of interested residents and businesses is needed, so that all points of view can be considered as the new LDO is being drafted.

Below are some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

Public Review Draft Questions

The following frequently asked questions have been added to this page as of 9/14/2021, to assist with review of the Public Review Draft of Trenton’s New Land Development Ordinance.

What is the philosophy behind the new district structure and proposed Zoning Map?

The updated LDO’s district structure is intended to both implement the City’s vision for the future as established in Trenton250, and to acknowledge the historic on-the-ground development patterns within the City’s neighborhoods. The future land use categories, adopted as part of Trenton250, are the basis for the new districts.  This type of approach to the districts is considered a “place-based” strategy.

A place-based approach can reflect the variety and richness that underlies much of Trenton’s current development and that of future development patterns as articulated in Trenton250. Our challenge was to draft the LDO to specify the use, form, and orientation standards in a manner that reinforces the existing or desired character within the places of the City. This will help to assure that future development reinforces the quality and character of existing development where preservation is the desired end and facilitates attainment of the policies where change is advocated.

By adopting a place-based approach, the resultant LDO is what is termed a “hybrid” ordinance. This is because the places of the City dictate the types of controls needed, as opposed to adopting a zoning approach and then forcing those regulations within that prescribed method. The place-based approach looked at each “place” and determined what zoning approaches would be appropriate. In a simple example, the mixed-use districts are concerned with both the form of development and its orientation to the street and transit, as well as uses, especially those located along the ground floor. Therefore, these districts combine elements of form-based coding and more traditional use-based zoning. In contrast, the industrial districts are more concerned with the impacts of intensive uses; such districts would incorporate elements of use-based zoning, where the land area is reserved primarily for industrial uses, and performance-based zoning, where the impacts are controlled.

While each place-based ordinance is different, examples of place-based codes include the following cities:

  • New Orleans, Louisiana – Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance
  • Saratoga Springs, New York – Unified Development Ordinance (currently up for adoption this year)
  • Charlotte, North Carolina – Transit Oriented Development Districts
    *Charlotte is currently drafting a place-based ordinance for the entirety of the City
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – Riverfront Zoning

How are uses allowed within the districts addressed?

The way that uses are handled within the LDO has been completed modernized.

  • Use permissions are organized within a global use matrix, replacing individual use lists within zoning districts. The global use matrix lists all uses and districts within the LDO, showing use permissions for each district (whether a use is permitted, conditional, or prohibited).
  • The global use matrix provides two ways to explore the use permissions: a user can find the use they are interested in and look across the row to see which districts allow it, or a property owner can look down the column to see what uses are allowed within the district containing their property.  
  • The uses allowed in each district have been evaluated and updated. Uses now correspond to the purpose, form, and function of each district.
  • A generic use approach was established by combining similar specific uses into a series of broader use categories. For instance, as opposed to specifically listing “shoe store,” “record store,” and “bookstore,” a generic use approach would address all these uses – and more – within a category of “retail goods establishments.”

A realistic approach to parking has been proposed – what does that mean?

Zoning regulates what structures and land are used for, where a structure may locate on a lot, and how big that structure can

A major change in the new LDO is the elimination of minimum parking requirements in most instances. This means that for most development, the market will decide how much parking – if any – should be provided. Further, if parking is provided, the LDO contains parking maximum regulations that will limit how much parking may be provided on-site, as well as standards to ensure safe and attractive design of parking areas.

For certain development actions a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan is required, which may require off-street parking to be provided, determined on a case-by-case basis during site plan review.

There are numerous reasons why Trenton is pursuing this approach. First, minimum parking standards can be somewhat arbitrary, often based on calculations of parking demand at peak times rather than during normal conditions, resulting in large, underutilized, paved parking areas. This has the secondary effects of being environmentally unfriendly (excessive paving increases stormwater run-off and intensifies the heat island effect), and negatively impacting neighborhood character (minimum parking requirements tend to be the primary driver of site-design considerations, with contextually appropriate designs often being sacrificed to accommodate required parking).

Additionally, minimum parking standards can have a dampening effect on the City’s economic development climate. When required parking amounts cannot be accommodated on-site, variances are required, adding both significant cost and significant time to the development process. As many areas of Trenton developed without off-street parking, and have historically not provided any, the elimination of required minimums allows for easier reuse and redevelopment of these areas.

More background on such an approach is available at the following links:

People Over Parking – Planning Magazine

How Eliminating Parking Minimums Actually Makes Cities Better – EESI

A Map of Cities That Got Rid of Parking Minimums – Strong Towns

How is the new LDO helping Trenton become more sustainable?

A sustainable community is one that contains a land use pattern that fits the economic, housing, and lifestyle needs of a community. It is one that accommodates a host of transportation modes, scaled to the needs of the community. And it is one that enables environmentally sound development, for example reducing urban heat islands through parking lot landscape, allowing solar panels, wind turbines and other alternative energy systems, and permitting community gardens and limited food processing in select commercial districts to expand access to healthy foods. It increases transportation choice by requiring bicycle parking, encouraging more dense development near transit, and requiring the provision of pedestrian access. Finally, it provides the opportunity to protect the City’s natural resources through sensible, achievable controls.

Some of the highlights that further goals of sustainability within the proposed LDO are:

  • Regulations that allow for the creation of true mixed-use neighborhoods, acknowledging the City’s historic development patterns and reducing the need for vehicular trips to fulfill the daily needs of residents
  • Impervious surface (i.e. paved surface) coverage limits in the residential districts
  • No parking minimums required in most cases, and parking maximums that apply when parking is provided
  • Required electric vehicle parking spaces if parking is provided
  • Required bicycle parking
  • Permissions for sustainable accessory structures, such as solar panels and private wind turbines
  • Exterior lighting controls (on private property)
  • New comprehensive landscape requirements
  • Tree conservation regulations

Does the proposed LDO effectuate gentrification? 

Gentrification is a complicated issue, with numerous factors that can contribute to its occurrence. While zoning regulations can play a role in effectuating gentrification, it is the combination of zoning and shifting market conditions/desirability that often drive gentrification of a neighborhood.  

The threat of gentrification is generally greatest when two factors are occurring simultaneously – the suppression of development in highly desirable areas of a community, and an increase in development pressure resulting from “up-zoning” in historically lower-income or less desirable areas of a community. In these situations, as development pressure is diverted, new residents tend to begin moving to those areas of the community that have been historically less desirable, lower-income, and often more racially and culturally diverse.  

With an influx of new residents and new development, communities often experience rapid change; new businesses may also locate within the community to serve the growing population, new schools may be built, and correspondingly – property values may rise. Though some of these changes are arguably improvements in quality-of-life within a neighborhood, they are often also contributing factors in the main threat of gentrification to long-term residents of historically low-income, racially, and culturally diverse neighborhoods: displacement. 

Though displacement is a concern in many communities, in the case of Trenton specifically, we believe that the proposed LDO will not have a significant impact in encouraging gentrification or displacement of current residents. There are several reasons for this assessment:  

  • The City of Trenton was built for a significantly larger population (approximately 150,000) than it currently serves. With a current population of 90,000 residents, and an ample supply of housing stock, Trenton’s neighborhoods can accommodate a significant number of new residents without encouraging displacement.  
  • The proposed LDO acknowledges the existing mixed residential form of the city – meaning most residential districts allow for a diverse range of housing types, from single-family to rowhouse and multi-family. However, the standards for the districts are sensitive to the surrounding context. This means that while a lower density housing type, such as single-family, may be replaced with a higher density multi-family structure, the maximum heights and minimum setbacks constrain that new development to match the surrounding area. Effectively, within an existing neighborhood, a structure cannot be torn down and replaced with something like a high rise building that would be out of scale and character with the area – something that is often cited as a negative consequence of gentrification. 
  • Mixed-use development is now allowed broadly throughout the City, increasing opportunities for a variety of housing types, and a range of housing options throughout the City. With a broad allowance for mixed-use development, specific neighborhoods are unlikely to be targeted for new development because of zoning-driven considerations. 

As part of the update process, and given concerns regarding gentrification and affordable housing within the City, there may be further discussions regarding the incorporation of inclusionary zoning provisions into the LDO. 

What does the proposed LDO allow that the current Ordinance does not allow?   

In comparison to the current Ordinance, the proposed LDO has a significant number of new allowances that will contribute to implementing the vision of Trenton250. A few key examples are as follows: 

  • District standards allow for a variety of residential infill development options that match the surrounding character. The new standards allow for this infill to occur by-right, without the need for any special approvals.  
  • Allowances for mixed-use development now begin within the medium density residential districts, allowing for the inclusion of relatively low intensity commercial uses designed to serve the surrounding neighborhood. As these types of uses are now permitted within the districts, variances and other special approvals will no longer be needed.  
  • The use structure has been updated to include a wide variety of modern use categories that are more inclusive and will, again, reduce the need for variances and offer more flexibility.  
  • Temporary uses have been added, offering opportunities for local entrepreneurship and facilitating a vibrant environment that accommodates a variety of temporary events.  
  • Sustainable development controls have been incorporated throughout the Ordinance. These new controls range from allowances for the installation of solar panels and keeping of bees, to requirements for electric vehicle charging capabilities within parking facilities.   
  • With the LDO’s realistic approach to parking (having eliminated minimum parking requirements), development will no longer be constrained by the need to accommodate parking first. Rather, focus can be placed on the form and character of new development. 

Does the LDO incorporate changes from the cannabis ordinance that City Council passed in August? If not, how will that be handled?

The LDO does not incorporate the cannabis ordinance at this time. This draft was already completed before Council passed the ordinance. It will need to be incorporated into the next draft.

The LDO was introduced to the Planning Board on September 23. Will there be a follow-up meeting at the end of the public comment period?

At the close of the public comment period there will be a follow-up meeting with the Planning Board. At this meeting, we will be reviewing all public comments and choosing some directions about which changes we would like to incorporate. At that point, we will make decisions about the next steps. If there a large number of major changes that need to be made, it could be possible that we would have a second round of public comment before approaching City Council. If the changes that are needed are less severe and are easier to incorporate, our next step would be to send the revised draft to Council. Council would then send the new draft back to Planning Board to review for consistency against the Master Plan. City Council would then have the final vote.

Does the Zoning Board also review/approve the new LDO, or are they just responsible for its implementation?

The Zoning Board is only responsible for implementation of the LDO. Zoning Board members are welcome to participate in this process as members of the public.

General Questions

What is Zoning?

Zoning regulates what structures and land are used for, where a structure may locate on a lot, and how big that structure can be. It also regulates other elements of site development, such as accessory structures, parking, and landscape. Zoning regulations are divided into zoning districts, so that use, bulk, yard and development regulations are tailored to the character of each particular zoning district.

Why is the City Updating the LDO?

The City’s current Land Development Ordinance requires major revisions, as it contains antiquated content, inconsistent standards, and insufficient administrative guidance. In addition, many of the zoning district regulations may not relate to the current built environment in the City, creating nonconformities, or may not allow for certain forms of development that the community desires. An updated LDO can address these problems, removing unnecessary regulatory hurdles, and providing opportunities for Trenton to move toward the vision established in “Trenton 250.” In short — modernizing the LDO is a big step in helping Trenton achieve its long-term vision, and there’s no time like the present.

What is the relationship between Trenton 250 and the Land Development Ordinance?

The Trenton 250 Comprehensive Master Plan established a long-term vision for the future of the Trenton, and called for a number of new policies to move the City toward that vision. The Plan provides mapped and written policy about how land should be managed and how development should occur within the City. The new LDO will take these policies as its base, and provide a set of development regulations, generally organized by district, each containing specific regulations key to those policies. The City’s zoning map will also be updated as part of the update process, identifying the location of these districts and thereby specifying the development requirements affecting land within the City. As such, the development of Trenton’s new Land Development Ordinance is a major step in implementing the Trenton 250 Master Plan.

How Can I Get Involved?

As the project moves forward, there will be numerous opportunities to learn about the LDO update, ask questions, and provide feedback. Upcoming events will be shared on this site as they are scheduled, and you can always leave us a comment through the comment form located here.