Midd. starts town plan rewrite effort

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Planning Commission on Tuesday will convene the first of several televised panel discussions designed to encourage citizens to weigh in on how they’d like to see their community grow during the next decade and beyond.
At issue is the latest five-year rewrite of the local town plan — a blueprint for future growth and development — scheduled for completion by June of 2012. Past rewrite efforts have seen planning commission members scrutinize the town plan, evaluate and recommend passages that might be out of date, then go through a public hearing process culminating in selectboard approval of the document.
“We decided to look at the town plan a little differently this time,” said Middlebury Planning Commission Chairwoman Nancy Malcolm.
That new approach began last year with a “What Makes Middlebury Rock?” survey offered on-line to townspeople.
Those survey results yielded some recurring themes, which the commission summarized into five categories: affordability, sustainability, adaptability, community character, and human interaction.
“When we re-write the town plan, we are going to assess each section in regards to these five themes,” Malcolm said. For example, the town plan’s housing section will be evaluated based on the how such development can satisfy the stated community priorities of affordability, sustainability, etc.
In an effort to shine a brighter and more inclusive spotlight on the town plan sections, each will be the subject of a two-hour panel discussion featuring experts in that particular field. For example, the first such discussion — on the “energy” section — will feature, among others, Central Vermont Public Service Corp. Director of Transmission Bruce Bentley; Middlebury Energy Coordinator Laura Asermily; and Jack Byrne, director of Middlebury College’s Sustainability Integration Office. The discussion, set for this Tuesday, Sept. 7, at 7 p.m. in the Middlebury municipal building conference room, is being organized by resident Steve Terry, former senior vice president for Green Mountain Power.
Panelists will be asked questions in their areas of expertise “to get some background and understand some specifics, with the goal of eventually trying to write a plan that will be good for 10, 15 or 20 years out,” Malcolm said.
Future panel discussions — all of which are open to the public and will be broadcast on Middlebury Community Television — will focus on housing (Sept. 15); natural resources (Sept. 20); local economy (Oct. 4); cultural/historical assets (Oct. 18); and transportation (Nov. 3). Dates had yet to be assigned for education and land use sections as the Addison Independent went to press.
“We are trying to tap into some real experience to start a conversation on these topics,” said Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington.
Malcolm expects there to be some free-flow between different town plan sections at the panel discussions.
“We understand that (some topics) completely overlap,” Malcolm said. “You can’t look at the local economy without looking at transportation and housing.”
Following each panel discussion, a planning commission designee will start a re-write of that particular town plan section. Each of those draft sections will then be brought to public hearing for input and potential additional revisions, according to Malcolm. She believes this more measured approach — taking on the rewrite section by section — could lead to a more effective and pertinent town plan.
“In the past, the whole plan was brought at once before the public, and you could get sidetracked on one little issue and not look at the whole thing,” Malcolm said.
Ultimately, the selectboard will convene its own public hearings on the rewrite. The selectboard has final approval over the document.
Malcolm is optimistic the new rewrite process for the town plan will work well.
“It’s ambitious,” she said. “But we’re going to give it a shot.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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