Middlebury adopts new town plan with no retail cap

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday formally adopted the community’s updated town plan, a weighty document that local officials and residents expanded, tweaked and sometimes heatedly debated over the course of more than two years.

The board voted 6-0 in favor of the document, with Selectman Travis Forbes unable to be present. The town plan describes the community’s assets and its growth priorities for the next five years.

The panel quickly OK’d the plan after taking one last stab at an issue that stirred the most fervor among the dozens of people who weighed in on the plan during multiple public hearings: Whether the document (as recommended by the planning commission) should specify a 50,000-square-foot cap on future retail store proposals. Such a cap is already referenced in the town’s zoning ordinances, which a majority of the board felt was adequate protection and keeps the door open for a broad community discussion on retail store development in Middlebury.

But some board members — and many people who spoke up during the preceding public hearings — said they felt the town would be better protected against potential future big-box store applications if the cap was also referenced in the town plan.

Language in the town plan requires that development proposals be consistent with Middlebury’s zoning ordinances.

Selectwoman Susan Shashok on Tuesday proposed a last-ditch amendment that would have added the word “scale” to the retail store-related section: “This town plan prescribes that all industrial, commercial office and commercial retail development in the town of Middlebury must be in conformity with the town’s zoning ordinance with respect to location, character, size and scale.”

“If you remove the focus on the number of the 50,000-square-foot cap, then we are all really asking for the same thing, which is finding appropriate scale of development for Middlebury,” Shashok wrote in a support paper for her motion. “The zoning can determine the details but our town plan should place scale alongside location, character and size.”

Selectman Craig Bingham seconded Shashok’s motion, which was ultimately defeated by a 4-2 margin. Selectboard Chairman Dean George noted an opinion from the town attorney indicating approval of the additional word to the plan would have required calling another public hearing, thereby extending the timeframe for ratifying the plan by several more weeks.

After approving the plan, the board gave its thanks to the Middlebury Planning Commission, which presided over one of the most sweeping overhauls in the document’s history. Along with numerous public hearings, that transformation involved a broadly circulated questionnaire and subcommittees that took feedback on individual sections of the documents.

“I think (the planning commission) labored long and they were patient and conducted a commendably open process,” said Selectman Victor Nuovo.

“It has been a very long and arduous process,” George said. “I am confident we have a town plan we can work with and accomplish our goals for the community.”

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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