What is planning?
In its most basic form, planning is the art of understanding how things are in our communities today, how we'd like things to be tomorrow, and then figuring out how to get there. It involves recognizing the gifts that we share here in Vermont, and celebrating the ability we have in our communities to create our own destinies. It is the planner’s – or planning commission’s – responsibility to gather and guide public perceptions and translate them into visions for the community’s future. Specifically, they determine how to manage growth and seek solutions to encourage appropriate development while protecting the environment.
Planning allows community members to come together to make decisions about the town or city’s priorities for the future. It creates an environment where residents become part of a larger whole and have the right and responsibility to decide how the entire community should develop itself. A single project can have a big impact – for the better, or for the worse – on an entire town.
Planning lays out the community’s priorities, helps to guide development (in the form of housing, commercial, recreation, transportation, etc.), and helps town officials and potential developers to know exactly where everyone stands on a particular type of project and how to best implement it.
Who should be included when beginning a plan?
The short answer: everybody. The Plan should not only a document for the planning commission and the town offices. The ultimate goal is to create a plan that speaks for the entire community. The more people who feel that the plan represents them, the more effective a document it will be.
A good first step is to identify key organizations within your community and contact a representative. Groups could include a lake association, a historical society, a snowmobilers association, etc.
What role does the RPCs play?
Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) in Vermont are set up to work towards two primary goals: assisting individual communities with their planning efforts and leading a comprehensive approach to development issues on a regional scale.
Regional Planning Commissions often create agreements with individual communities to assist in the creation or update of town plans, or development regulations such as zoning, or special projects. In many cases, especially in communities without professional planning staff, they also provide technical assistance to dedicated volunteer planning commissions as they strive to plan for the future.
At the regional level, boards of commissioners – representing all member communities – guide decisions affecting multiple communities. Subjects of regional interest include transportation, water quality, housing, economic development, and emergency management, among others.
What is the purpose of a Town or Regional Plan?
Town and regional plans are meant to be guides to the future. They are the result of public discussion and deliberation about how a community should develop itself.
In Vermont, town plans are required, by statute, to include eleven sections. Town Plans should include a current description of the community, an analysis of what facilities and services will be needed in the future, and statement of what the community wants for its future. Perhaps most importantly, a plan should include a set of priorities for what can or should be done to achieve the future the community seeks.
Isn't the Plan just used to create regulations?
No. Regulations are a popular, and often effective, way of implementing a plan, but they are by no means the only way. Non-regulatory tools, as they are often called, may include setting town priorities for spending funds on improvements, seeking grants to assist in economic development or the design or creation of facilities (be they infrastructure or bike paths), raising awareness of important issues and assistance to residents (for example, affordable housing), promoting desired types of development, setting up annual community events, or preparing local information brochures.
Of course, a plan can also lay the foundation for adopting regulations, including subdivision regulations, flood hazard regulations, wireless telecommunications facilities ordinances, or zoning, among others.
What is the difference between a town plan and
zoning or another regulation?
Essentially, the Plan is a guide, while zoning or subdivision regulations present requirements that those wishing to build or add to a development must follow. The Plan is the town’s broad vision for the future and is focused on identifying major problems or opportunities and laying out the foundations for dealing with them. Regulations implement the plan by setting specific standards for development that others must follow.
A town plan might suggest, in the future land use section of its Plan, that one part of the community is especially well suited to low density residential development. It would not specify lot sizes, setbacks, or permitted uses, though it may provide suggestions. A regulation would fill in the details, establishing the types of appropriate development and the form that it should take, be it through minimum lot sizes, types of permitted uses, or incentives for development that matches the town’s character.
What is the difference between zoning and subdivision?
First, it should be mentioned that a given bylaw may very well contain elements of both zoning and subdivision regulation.
That being said, subdivision regulations generally deal with how a larger piece of land is cut into smaller pieces and how any infrastructure, such as roads or stormwater management, are integrated into the new landscape. Subdivision regulations generally provide a set of locally-determined standards for the creation of new lots, including design and access.
Zoning regulations, by contrast, are applied to parcels that are to be used or built upon. They may include lists of what uses are appropriate for certain districts within the community, lot size minimums or maximums, setbacks requirements, provisions for changing uses, or incentives for innovative developments that promote goals outlined in the town plan.
Development Review Questions
Please note: For the time being, please refer to the Chapter 117 FAQs that were created in response to the statutory revisions of 2004.