Middlebury to update its zoning

MIDDLEBURY — One would think that Middlebury Planning Commission members could rest a little after spending the past three years updating the community’s comprehensive town plan. But the panel is now turning its attention to another, complementary task: ensuring that Middlebury’s zoning laws dovetail with the principles laid out in the town plan.
The commission has been steadily chipping away at its zoning rules update, which it hopes to deliver for the selectboard’s approval sometime this fall. Much of the work will be of the “housecleaning variety,” according to Middlebury Zoning Administrator Ted Dunakin. That means cleaning up language and organizing the zoning rules into proper categories.
Once the housecleaning gets done, the commission will take up — and invite public feedback on — more substantive zoning issues, with the future of retail store development looming as perhaps the toughest nut to crack. It was retail, and specifically the issue of whether the town plan should reflect an existing zoning ordinance stipulation that future retail proposals be limited to 50,000 square feet, that generated the most controversy and feedback during the recent town plan review.
The updated town plan OK’d by the selectboard does not include a 50,000-square-foot limit on future retail projects, but it does call for reflecting “in the zoning ordinance, a means to identify the appropriate locations for industrial, commercial office, or commercial retail development and specify characteristics consistent with all themes and objectives in the town plan.”
Commission Chairwoman Nancy Malcolm said the Better Middlebury Partnership has formed a committee to study the retail issue and make some recommendations to the commission.
“We gave (the issue) to a group that can really work with it,” Malcolm said.
Another potentially meaty zoning issue with which the commission will contend: Accessory apartments. Dunakin explained that current zoning laws allow for accessory apartments, but include square footage and percentage limits that preclude some homeowners (with smaller abodes) from creating a living space for a family member. The commission might consider tweaking and better defining the limits, Dunakin said.
Officials do not anticipate any sweeping zoning changes to be proposed.
Anyone interested in weighing in on the zoning laws can do so at planning commission meetings, held the first and third Mondays of the month at 5 p.m. at the Middlebury Police Department conference room off Seymour Street.
Commission members vowed to do a thorough job.
“It’s a long process,” Malcolm said. “It’s going to be done right.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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