2016 Comprehensive Plan Advances to Council Review: Public Hearing Process Continues

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Thursday November 12, 2015

After having been in the planning commission’s hands for five years and undergone a public hearing session, the draft 2016 Comprehensive Plan is now in the city council’s court as it approaches its March 9 deadline for adoption. That said, there’s still time to share comments and recommendations with the city.

What is the Comprehensive Plan, and why is it important?

Under state law, the Comprehensive Plan looks carefully at land use planning and it is required to set goals and broad policies for the future of South Burlington. Whether it’s used to guide policies like the Land Development Regulations, for grant applications, in Act 250 reviews, or by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, the Plan serves as an important reference when steering decisions in the city’s desired direction.

The Comprehensive Plan is not to be confused with the Land Development Regulations (LDRs), which is a zoning ordinance. LDRs outline specific directions to follow, whereas the Comprehensive Plan looks at land use from a 50,000-foot level. Under state law, zoning must be compatible with the Comprehensive Plan. If the zoning differs from the Comprehensive Plan, then the LDRs need to be revised. There is a separate public hearing process for the LDRs.

The planning commission, a seven member board of South Burlington citizens who are appointed by the city council, is in charge of developing and maintaining the plan, and the city council has the final say whether or not the plan is adopted.

This guide remains in effect for five years, and can either be replaced with an updated plan or an existing plan can be re-adopted by the deadline in order to remain active.

The 2011 South Burlington Comprehensive Plan was a re-adoption of the 2006 Plan. Since the current plan has 10-year-old data and goals, dialogue among planning commissioners, staff, city officials and committees, regional entities, the business community, and the general public has resulted in a complete overhaul for 2016.

What happens if the 2016 Comprehensive Plan isn’t adopted by March 9?

“After March 9, the current plan is no longer in effect; there is no city plan. That’s the state law mechanism,” explained Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner at the November 3 planning commission meeting. “Therefore, if there’s no city plan, then the city cannot change regulations, if there’s an Act 250 application, they can’t look at the city plan and what the city wants to do with it, we can’t apply for certain grant applications, that’s what happens….The city doesn’t want to be in a position of not having a plan.”

Process

Vermont State law requires public hearings at the planning commission and city council levels. Thus far, the planning commission has had three informal public input sessions (an afternoon and an evening session on September 22, and one on October 3), one public hearing for the entire Plan on October 20, and one public hearing session exclusively for the newly-revised Education section on October 27. There were specific changes made at the November 3 meeting, even though it wasn’t a formal public hearing, since there was a high turnout and specific direction made to staff.

The planning commission is now passing the Plan to the city council, which is required to hold at least two public hearings. The planning commission is presenting the Plan to council at a joint meeting on Thursday, November 12 with an overview and explanation of process. From there, council will set the dates for the public hearings.

Even though there have been both public input sessions and public hearings, the city council does have the authority to direct the planning commission to review a specific part of the Plan as necessary.

A digital copy of the draft Comprehensive Plan with revisions from community sessions can be found at www.sburl.com. The opportunity to participate in paving South Burlington’s future is still open!

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent