The Comprehensive Plan: A Guide to the Future

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Thursday November 19, 2015

The planning commission presented the city council with an overview of the Comprehensive Plan at a joint meeting on Thursday, November 12. A city council public hearing and a public work session following the hearing has officially been warned for Tuesday, December 15 at 6:30 p.m.

The Planning Commission had previously held a public hearing for the entire 2016 Comprehensive Plan on October 20, and for changes to the Education section on October 27. There was a high turnout at the commission’s November 10 meeting, which resulted in the planning commission making specific changes to the Education section and including language about east/west roads.

planning c)ommission Chair Jessica Louisos kicked off the meeting with a general overview of the Comprehensive Plan. She explained that it was a guide to the future, and that while it’s often viewed as just a guide for land use, it’s also used as a guide for seeking grant funding, Public Service Board review, and Act 250 review. She walked councilors through the key sections of the Plan, including the introduction, Community Assessment, and Future Land Use; she also reviewed the goals for the city. Paul Conner explained the Regional Planning Commission’s guidelines and standards for confirmation of the municipal planning processes and approval of municipal plans.

“The way it’s presented is fantastic,” praised Council Chair Pat Nowak. “You’ve made it extremely easy to go through.”

Leading up to this presentation, Vice Chair Tracey Harrington explained how the public process has been handled. In addition to the regularly-warned meetings, the commission set up three informal public input sessions earlier this fall; there was one meeting during the day on September 22, an evening meeting on September 22, and a Saturday meeting on October 3, in order to get as many people involved as possible.

Both verbal and written, the commission received an extensive list of comments organized into categories and laid out in a spread sheet, courtesy of the planning staff.

“Thank you to all the members of South Burlington who came out and provided feedback on the Plan,” Harrington said.

Not all comments could be incorporated in the 2016 Plan, but the commission will send a resounding “thank you” message and include those items on their list of topics to address for next round.

Following Harrington, Commissioner Bernie Gagnon took the helm for the third part of the presentation, which was an overview of the future land use map.

The map “doesn’t just look at density,” he said, “but it provides guidance to our Land Development Regulations (LDRs) on how we want development to be distributed to the city as a whole.”

Gagnon also pointed out the Shelburne Road and Williston Road corridors, explaining that the 2001 version defined things in terms of commercial uses but this version recognizes the value of infill development, transportation corridors, etc.

The map displays a range of colors signifying different land use categories and degrees of intensity. Green is very low intensity - primarily open space, yellow is low intensity - primarily residential (single family) orange is medium intensity - residential to mixed use, blue is medium-high intensity - primarily non-residential, and red is higher intensity - primarily mixed use.

Furthermore, there are areas that are still undergoing studies, such as the Chamberlin neighborhood. The Chamberlin Neighborhood Airport Committee is working to define the neighborhood’s future, and therefore, the planning commission decided to not designate a density/land use category and left it white on the map.

Councilors and commissioners then spent time speaking about a range of topics, including the Spear Street Extension, state expectations in regards to the Education section, and view corridors.

City council is required to hold at least two public hearings. If there are any substantive changes made during this process, then council must supply a copy to the city clerk and to the planning commission, and the commissioners must evaluate that change for consistency. Staff recommended that the council gather all possible changes, submit them to the planning commission for review, then warn a second hearing for January with those changes incorporated, Conner said. If there are changes council wants made after the second public hearing, a third public hearing must be warned.

The current Plan expires March 9. Cities and towns in Vermont are not required to have a Plan, but if it were to expire, it would mean the city is ineligible for grants, programs, activities, and consideration in certain state proceedings, according to the staff memo provided to city council and as referenced by Louisos.

Councilor Meagan Emery moved to warn the first city council public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan, as presented that night, for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Councilor Chris Shaw seconded, and the vote was unanimously in favor.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent