New Haven discusses town plan

NEW HAVEN — On Monday evening at Town Meeting nearly 100 New Haven residents filled the town hall to discuss, among other things, the new town plan.
While the town plan passed by a margin of 274 to 140 by paper ballot the following day, residents at the meeting brought up a number of qualms concerning zoning and development along Route 7 and town officials stressed that the discussions are not over. As the planning commission now turns to the task of rewriting zoning regulations, many of the same concerns and discussions are likely to arise.
Planning commission head Jim Walsh spoke to the gathered crowd at Monday’s meeting, explaining that the plan is the result of two years and a lot of work, and makes some major changes in the language of the town’s goals.
For one thing, Walsh cited changes to the plan that will make it easier for town residents to operate home-based businesses.
He also explained a switch to density-based zoning that the plan proposes, which he said would encourage landowners to concentrate development into central areas on their land, keeping more land open.
According to the town plan, “density-based zoning discourages fragmentation of productive land by establishing a low overall density while allowing for creation of small house lots.”
Al Karnatz, a member of the planning commission, said that the town plan and zoning decisions are a result of listening to town residents over the past two years.
“The town plan is what we heard from people,” he said. “We wanted some flexibility and some change.”
But some voters objected, saying that the plan was not definite enough, especially when it comes to preventing large-scale development, much like that in South Burlington, from being built along Route 7. The plan seeks to establish specific areas in town, including a number along Route 7, where further business development can be encouraged.
Michael Dennison spoke up, saying that there had been mailings urging New Haven voters to vote no. His worry, he said, was that “adopting the plan will mean more infrastructure needs in town.”
Francie Caccavo, another member of the planning commission, said that the fear over large-scale development was “totally hypothetical.”
“We’re trying to shape growth as it comes to us,” she said. “We’re very sensitive about preserving the rural landscape, but we need to be conscious that there’s going to be growth,” she said.
New Haven resident Jerry Smiley expressed concerns about nonspecific language in the town plan. He said Orwell is the only other town in the county with density-based zoning, and that the maps in the town plan and the actual zoning maps are nearly identical. Though he admitted that the process in New Haven was likely to be different, he said the language of the town plan was not clear enough to guard against strip development.
Though the document has passed, planners at the meeting stressed that many key decisions in how the zoning provisions will be implemented are still in the works, and will be open to public comment — the plan merely allows the town to move forward on new zoning regulations.
Pam Marsh, the chair of the selectboard, assured town residents that all of this discussion will have its place in the zoning proposal period, since new bylaws are far from being set in stone.
“The town plan is just the concept that guides us,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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