Citizen input sought on revised Weybridge town plan

WEYBRIDGE — Weybridge residents on Tuesday, Sept. 6, will be asked for their feedback on town plan revisions that have been a decade in the making.
The revised plan includes new maps, updated facts and figures charting the growth of the community, an entirely new energy section, and a variety of suggestions aimed at helping Weybridge plot a smooth development course for at least the next five years.
The plan also acknowledges Weybridge’s declining student population, which impacts the elementary school. The plan suggests measures the town could take — such as encouraging more affordable housing and denser development allowances in some areas — to boost the number of families able to lay down local roots thus increasing the number of schoolchildren.
“Our sense is that the selectboard is happy with most of the plan,” Weybridge Planning Commission Chairwoman Jan Albers said. “But we will find out more and will see if people show up at our hearing.”
New to the plan this year is an energy section that acknowledges new advances in green energy and Weybridge’s opportunity to tap into such resources.
The energy section was spearheaded by former planning commission member Rich Wolfson, to whom the revised town plan is dedicated, along with former colleague Spence Putnam.
Weybridge, according to the energy plan, is ideally positioned to harness solar energy.
“Given our total energy consumption rate of 7,300 kW, this means that even in January, Weybridge could, in principle, meet our average energy demand with solar energy, using just 15 of our town’s 11,243 acres,” the town plan states.
But planning commission members acknowledge that it will take a diverse power portfolio to meet the town’s energy needs. The plan notes that 34 percent of Weybridge’s territory is forested with enough trees to supply 1,200 cords of wood per year to help heat the town’s 340 households.
The town isn’t topographically suited to host wind turbines (except for a small area on Snake Mountain), the town plan states. On the other hand, Weybridge is a “powerhouse” when it comes to hydro-electricity. It is home to four separate power stations along the Otter Creek. Those stations are owned by utilities, but Weybridge receives substantial property tax revenue from hosting those facilities.
With all this in mind, the planning commission is recommending, among other things, that Weybridge:
•  Support production of energy from methane to be a desirable agricultural practice.
•  Encourage the use of wind energy with due regard to aesthetic considerations, especially in high and medium density residential areas,
•  Encourage the use of other alternative means for energy production in town buildings, the school and residences such as geothermal and solar.
•  Conserve forest land as a renewable energy resource.
•  Explore the funding opportunities and implementation possibilities to upgrade the efficiencies in all town buildings including the school, town hall, library and town offices.
The town plan’s communications chapter has been revised to reflect a renewed emphasis on giving citizens high-speed Internet access and better cell phone coverage. To that end, the plan recommends that Weybridge:
•  Strongly encourage the extension of wireless telephone service through the siting of antennas out of view within existing structures.
•  Discourage siting of cell phone and other communications antennas where construction of new roads would be required.
•  Acknowledge the revenue that the town could receive from inconspicuously hosting communication antennae in some municipal buildings. Such revenue, the town suggests, could be used to pay for the upkeep of the hosting building.
•  Discourage the building of freestanding cell phone towers on Snake Mountain and other ridgelines. However, the plan recognizes that there are circumstances in which a cell phone tower may be the only option for supplying service to certain parts of the town.
•  Adopt a rule requiring that any company wishing to build a freestanding tower in Weybridge must provide a study demonstrating that they cannot satisfy demand by using existing structures. This study would take the form of a conditional use review, with costs of the town consultant to be paid by the company seeking the tower.
“The economic ramifications of not having good communications are ever-more apparent, so we spent more time talking about how to get good coverage to the whole town without sticking towers willy-nilly,” Albers said. “What we encourage in the new plan is good coverage everywhere, as unobtrusively delivered as possible.”
The plan also acknowledges Weybridge’s declining student population and its status as primarily a bedroom community with higher-end housing. With that in mind, the plan proposes that the town encourage the development of more affordable housing that could provide young families with a greater incentive to live and school their children locally. The plan also recommends that Weybridge Elementary be opened to a wider population — including preschoolers and adults looking to borrow books.
With Weybridge’s elementary population projected to drop into the 30s by the 2012-2013 school year, planners are suggesting educational collaborations with neighboring communities.
“Explore coordination with adjoining communities to meet educational needs of Weybridge,” the plan states. “Respond to state and regional discussions with regard to school district consolidation and sharing resources.”
The document also includes some new maps that illustrate, among other things, Weybridge’s population density areas; historic resources; earth resources; public, conserved and institutional lands; commute shed; soil septic suitability; utilities, facilities and school; transportation system and road names; and significant natural resources and road names. Also featured is an aerial photo of Weybridge.
“(These maps) give the people of Weybridge a wonderful way to visualize many of the different aspect of their lives in town,” Albers said. “Kevin Behm of Addison County Regional Planning Commission did a tremendous job with the maps. They are very colorful.”
The Sept. 6 hearing will take place at the Weybridge town offices beginning at 7:30 p.m. If there are no major revisions, the selectboard can adopt the revised plan. Any major revisions would trigger another public hearing. Once the revisions are approved, the planning commission will propose zoning and subdivision revisions to match the priorities stated in the plan.
“We hope the fact that it hasn’t been a hot-button topic is indicative of people feeling comfortable with what we’re doing,” Albers said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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