Work continues on city zoning; feedback sought

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Planning Commission has finished much of the complex task of rewriting city zoning to conform with the 2009 city plan, a job planners intend to complete in time to hold formal public hearings in November or December.
Work has included writing regulations essentially from scratch for the newest zones, the Historic Neighborhood (HND) and Northern Gateway (NGD) districts, and making significant changes to the Central Business District (CBD) to reflect the plan’s call for some design restrictions on new construction and on replacement structures.
The HND will be carved out of the existing residential district near downtown. HND laws would give homeowners more flexibility to make improvements closer to their property lines, but also would require homeowners to site homes in the same manner as existing homes — for example, close to the road in areas where all other homes are near the road. Homes would also be allowed to cover more of lots than in previous zoning laws.
The NGD district will run along a stretch of North Main Street. As called for in the city plan, the NGD laws would allow property owners to choose from a broader menu of uses than now permitted, including some retail and office uses. However, new laws would limit some purely residential uses on ground floors.
Planners have also redone introductory descriptions for all of the Vergennes zoning districts except the Industrial District, which they planned to tackle this Monday; tweaked some provisions in the Agricultural and Basin districts; and are in the process of rewriting definitions and subdivision regulations.
Although formal feedback is not scheduled until down the road, planning chairwoman Alex McGuire is hoping for feedback before then. For one thing, she said, the existing laws are so lengthy planners simply cannot go over them line by line — residents may see something that might need addressing.
“The regs are big,” McGuire said. “We’re recommending to the public if there is something they are concerned about, please bring it to our attention.”
Draft documents are available from City Manager/zoning administrator Mel Hawley, McGuire said. She believes planners have met the goal of following a plan that was adopted in October 2009.
“We have worked diligently to craft … clear, enforceable regulations that make sense for residents, business owners and visitors to Vergennes, trying to balance some very divergent viewpoints all while adhering as closely as possible to the (plan),” she said.
Some of those differing opinions relate to standards for new and rebuilt downtown construction. Guidelines call for similar sizes, stories, window appearances and entry styles for new structures. Some aldermen in particular, both during the plan adoption process and at an early meeting on the zoning rewrite, said they were concerned about design restrictions and related added insurance and construction costs for property owners.
Planners have noted that residents during the plan process expressed overwhelming support for regulations preserving the look and feel of downtown, and McGuire said opposition at the zoning meeting earlier this year brought no new points to light.
“It was my understanding those were the same concerns raised during the municipal development plan process,” she said.
Planners are preparing a series of drawings and photographs they intend to unveil at public hearings and include in the zoning regulations. Those graphics are intended to show what the new standards proposed in the zoning laws are designed to accomplish in building design.
“We’re hoping those will help people understand,” McGuire said.
Those are included in the information Hawley has, and McGuire said planners are happy to share them at any of their regular meetings — they meet at City Hall at 7 p.m. on the third Monday of each month.
McGuire said the more the merrier at this winter’s public hearings, but feedback might be even more valuable sooner.
“There really is ample time for public comment,” she said, “though, obviously, it’s most helpful to everyone if we learn of serious concerns as soon as possible.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

Share this story:

No items found
Share this story: