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Bristol to host hearing on pro-growth zoning laws

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission is seeking feedback from Bristol residents on its proposed changes to town zoning that aim to increase development to build a bigger tax base. It will explain the changes and take feedback in a hearing Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m., in the town offices at Holley Hall.
“We want to be able to answer questions about the updates we are proposing, explain the highlights, and take testimony in order to convey the best version of the document to the selectboard for its own deliberations,” said planning commission Chair Sue Kavanagh. “It’s important now for Bristol residents to take their own close look at our work and offer feedback.”
At the heart of the planning commission’s work on the zoning regs has been the vision of Bristol put forth in the current town plan, passed in 2012.
“The 2012 town plan was a huge measure for the town to pass and to create these planning areas and to really thoughtfully describe each of the planning areas,” said Kavanagh. “It was the outline that we then worked within.”
The town plan emphasizes building on the town’s compact village structure, blending residential, retail/commercial and municipal development in ways that support economic development. Among the priorities is generating higher-wage jobs within walking distance of the town center.
“It’s an important enough revision that we were really careful,” said Kavanagh. “We were incredibly deliberative. And we took the time to really think about uses.”
In the planning commission’s discussion of zoning boundaries, for example, Kavanagh described how the commission “literally went zone by zone and talked about what is this zone, what’s the objective of this zone, what are the uses, what are the dimensional standards.”
Kavanagh emphasized also that “by increasing the number of uses (in each zone), we have also tried to meet the call from the town plan to increase development to support the increase of a tax base — and to do it in a way that’s planned.”
Highlights of the proposed revisions, according to Kavanagh, include:
•  Review and in some cases redrawing of zoning districts so that each zone has clear objectives and guidelines.
•  Expanded uses in each zone.
•  Expanded business and residential development to strengthen Bristol’s tax base.
•  A new process for site plan review.
•  Establishment of a special overlay zone at the intersection of Routes 116 and 17 to guide future development.
Finally, said Kavanagh, the planning commission overhauled the entire zoning regs booklet itself so that it would be more user friendly. The commission wanted the document to be better organized and easier to use for applicants, town administrators and municipal bodies alike.
The planning commission’s goal is to have the zoning regulations on the March 2017 Town Meeting Day ballot. To that end, it needs to have all revisions finalized by the end of December or by early January. Following Tuesday’s public hearing, the commission will take that input, revise the regs and send them on to the selectboard as quickly as possible, said Kavanagh. The selectboard is expected to hold its own hearings something in November.
Also on the Town Meeting Day ballot, explained Kavanagh, will be re-adoption of the current town plan, which is set to expire in November 2017. Voting to readopt the current plan, said Kavanagh, is the most straightforward way to prevent its expiring without rushing into changes. The planning commission intends to warn the vote on the town plan such that the only change would be a new zoning map, reflecting the changes to the zoning regulations once approved by voters.
Once the zoning regs pass, the commission would then move its full attention to revising the re-adopted town plan in time for a vote before expiration in 2022.
The revised regulations can be found on the town website at www.bristolvt.org.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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