City council passes zoning rules

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a revised set of zoning regulations that reflect the newly created Historic Neighborhood and Northern Gateway districts, and also endorsed the first rewrite of the city’s subdivision laws since the 1970s.
It was in 2009, after approval of the updated city plan, that officials began revising the related zoning and subdivision regulations.
“We spent an almost three-year process to really dig through and make sure the language was consistent with the vision of the city plan as well as making sure that everything we were doing matched up with state regulations,” Vergennes Planning Commission Chairman Shannon Haggett said after the council reviewed the changes one last time and endorsed them without dissent.
Major changes in the revised zoning rules include:
• Allowing for multi-family homes in the Otter Creek Basin District.
• Establishing a minimum lot frontage in the new Historic Neighborhood District reduced from 70 feet to 66 feet, to better reflect the somewhat archaic four-rod measurement standard that was used in establishing many of the lots.
• Inserting language to make it clear that a density bonus for clustered Planned Unit Developments in the Agricultural District will still be permitted.
• Allowing temporary sandwich board signs in all districts, not just the Central Business and new Northern Gateway districts, as long as such signs did not block foot traffic.
• Allowing smaller lots and potential permitting for smaller side- and rear-yard setbacks in the Historic Neighborhood District. This will allow officials to authorize more applications for decks, garages and additions.
The regulations will also emphasize that rebuilt buildings mirror the size, lot placement and general style of existing structures.
The new Northern Gateway District will run along a stretch of North Main Street. Planners have acknowledged the area’s growing commercial nature by allowing more uses, but have also put some restrictions in place for new and rebuilt structures.
The Historic Neighborhood District encompasses many of the city’s older neighborhoods — such as West Main, South Water, South Maple and Green streets, where houses are closer together and on smaller lot sizes. The new zoning district designation gives homeowners more flexibility in making changes to their property, as the commission will now be able to take into account the smaller lot sizes and setbacks.
“We had to completely develop regulations for those (Historic Neighborhood and Northern Gateway) districts,” Haggett said. “We also took an opportunity to really look at the Central Business District and rework that and bring everything up to date.”
As for the city’s subdivision regulations, they have simply been streamlined — although the distinction between minor and major subdivisions has been dropped.
The planning commission completed its work on the zoning and subdivision regulations in January, then sent its proposed revisions to the city council. Both boards took extensive testimony on the proposed changes.
Haggett was pleased with the council’s approval of the new regulations on Tuesday.
“It has been a lengthy process, it’s been a positive process; we have gotten good testimony from the public and considered viewpoints that we hadn’t thought of,” Haggett said. “I feel happy that it’s done and I think that the city will overall benefit from this.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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