Leicester asks community for input on new town plan

LEICESTER — Last Wednesday evening, year-round and summer residents bent over questionnaires at the Leicester Meeting House, answering questions on everything from their favorite areas of town to their thoughts on a number of sample zoning ordinances.
The community forum, which drew close to 20 participants, was part of a push by town officials to update the last Leicester Town Plan from 2003, which was supposed to have been updated in 2008. Until the selectboard approves a new plan, it cannot make changes to its zoning regulations, which the town hopes to do in the next year.
And while they have been seeking community input for the new plan since March of this year, town officials wanted a way to include input from part-time residents of the town who are here in the summer months — especially those taxpayers who do not attend Town Meeting Day.
“In a town like Leicester, a lot of our income comes from those seasonal residents,” said Kate Briggs, the town’s zoning administrator and a member of the planning commission. “We don’t think you can do this from the top down. It should be accessible to the people.”
So Claire Tebbs, a land use planner at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, worked with the town to develop an informal forum where they could collect information from a broader spectrum of residents. They developed four stations, each with a worksheet addressing aspects of zoning ordinances and the character of the town, where people could share their thoughts and opinions.
Tebbs said that both the forum’s structure and the level of input the town was seeking were fairly unique.
“Not many communities are doing these,” she said. “We’re looking for topics of concern, issues that come up — the whole spectrum.”
Topics in the surveys ran the gamut from more technical questions about specific policies to hypothetical questions about the town’s future.
The first station hosted a community mapping activity, where participants received printed maps of the town and were asked to mark down six significant places, either assets of the town or concerns that a resident had. There was space to explain the reasoning behind each place.
At the second station, a packet of 16 photographs (taken in other towns and of development on other lakes), were presented to residents asking them to react to the photos in terms of street development, buildings and landscapes, and what features were liked or disliked. The purpose of the exercise was to “identify detailed characteristics of streetscapes, buildings use and character, (lake development) and landscape views that residents find appropriate or inappropriate to different areas of Leicester and why.” Participants were asked to rank each picture on a scale of one to five, and then to explain the positive and negative elements.
The third station outlined a number of sample zoning ordinances dealing with issues that town residents had brought up in recent years, asking for feedback on each issue. Among the topics were junk vehicles, regulations on home occupations and road construction.
The fourth delved into the future.
“Imagine that you fall asleep for 30 years like Rumplestiltsken (s.i.c.), and when you wake up Leicester is the town you always hoped it would be,” the instructions read. “What is different? What is the same?”
She said that the worksheets were aimed at getting a realistic — and somewhat lighthearted — look at what the town’s residents and taxpayers thought of the town. She said that she would be looking for issues like aesthetic concerns and property rights. This, in turn, would help guide the town forward.
“Vermont can’t be a 19th century theme park, it’s got to be a place where people can make a living,” said Briggs.
Donna Swinington, chair of the planning commission, said that she hoped the revised town plan would be in place by the end of this year — after revision, the town will hold public forums for input, and if approved, it will be adopted by the selectboard.
Following that process, the input the town has received will serve as a guideline for revisions to the zoning bylaws. Swinington emphasized that this forum would not be the only way for Leicester residents to voice their opinions.
“Any citizen is welcome to work with us,” she said. “We’d love the help.”
Briggs said that she is still receiving requests for the worksheets from people who were unable to attend the forum. She encouraged any town residents, whether part-time or full-time, to pick up worksheets at the town offices, or call them at (802) 247-5961.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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