Ferrisburgh seeks input on revised town plan
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh residents will have a chance on March 15 to comment on and learn more about a final draft of a town plan that has been more than four years in the making and does include new material.
The town plan hearing is set to start at 7:45 p.m. during the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission’s regular meeting in the town’s Route 7 town offices that Wednesday evening.
Commission Chairman Bob Beach said the proposed plan is the product of a public process that began with citizen forums in 2013 and that has taken into account the concerns of the selectboard, the Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission, business interests, the Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth, and many residents.
“There has been public involvement along the way to get us to where we are today, and we think and hope that it agrees with the pleasure of the folks of Ferrisburgh,” Beach said.
“In the early stages we reached out and had open forums that brought in people to the Grange Hall. There were a couple of interested groups, Friends of Ferrisburgh and others, who had the opportunity to speak up and add suggestions, particularly along the Route 7 corridor, that have molded some of the changes.”
The planning commission early on in the process held a three-hour joint meeting with the Ferrisburgh selectboard to go over the plan in detail, one that selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said was productive and was appreciated by board members.
“We met and discussed it. There was a lot of give and take. It was so great we could talk about things,” Lawrence said. “There were changes on both sides. They were very accommodating.”
Lawrence said there were “no major concerns,” and she believes the selectboard is supportive of the plan, which after the planning commission holds at least the one hearing on March 15 then must head to the selectboard for at least one more hearing before approval.
Much of the 89-page document is devoted to data about Ferrisburgh and descriptions of its history, economy, topography, geology, resources and demographics — Beach said collecting of that required information was time-consuming, as was updating the plan to meet new state-mandated inclusions and taking time to allow neighboring communities to review it.
The process was also delayed last year, Beach said, when an Old Hollow Road church objected to the redrawing of a district line that would have made it more difficult for the church to subdivide and sell a lot if it wished in the future. Planners agreed to move the line back to where it was, but that major change meant restarting the hearing process.
Beach also said the heart of the proposed plan is its 14-page “Land Use Plan” section, which begins on Page 70 of a document that can be found on the town’s website (ferrisburghvt.org) under the Planning Commission tab on the left.
Possibly the most significant suggested change comes in one of the eight “Planning Areas” the plan defines, the Central District Planning Area, which is currently zoned Highway Commercial and Rural Residential. The plan describes it as “located in the roughly geographical center of town surrounding the intersection of Little Chicago Road and Middlebrook Road with Route 7.”
The plan recommends a zoning change to create a “mixed use/central village district” that would focus on “creating a community center.”
To do so, the plan recommends Ferrisburgh “incorporate design standards into zoning regulations for Route 7 businesses, which restricts scale and massing, and encourages safe access for vehicular and pedestrian circulation,” make safety improvements at the intersection of Little Chicago Road and Route 7; work with VTrans to slow Route 7 traffic; and support the Ferrisburgh recreation and Safe Routes to School committees.
Massing and scale requirements typically do not impose strict design restrictions on individual buildings, but deal with their size and placement in relation to existing developments. The most recent Vergennes zoning law uses such standards for its central zoning districts.
The plan also does away with language that suggested development in the area be typical of that found in “19th century crossroads,” wording that Beach acknowledged was not useful.
“The town plan prior to this one had language … that could not be defended in court,” he said. “And so the language has been changed and reviewed by the town lawyers. It is clear enough so that the intention of the town plan is presented properly.”
Clearer language could make the commercial development application process more predictable,” Beach said.
“We certainly hope so,” Beach said. “Ferrisburgh is still needing the opportunity of the local people to stay in town and get a job and create the opportunities. And part of our hope is that the continues.”
The plan also contains recommendations for Rural, Shoreland, Conservation, North Ferrisburgh Historic Neighborhood, South Business, and two Industrial districts.
In the Rural district, the town’s largest, the plan states agricultural and forestry uses are encouraged, “suburban development” is not allowed, and Planned Unit Developments that allow for clustered homes and “flexibility of building placement” are supported.
The plan recommends revising zoning to allow development based on density instead of minimum lot size, a change intended to preserve open land, and to encourage shared driveways.
In the Shoreland district along Lake Champlain a long list of recommended actions for the area includes creating design and siting standards within Ferrisburgh zoning that at least “meet any requirements set by the State associated with shoreline protection, including “specific vegetated buffer requirements for all shoreline properties.”
In the Conservation district the plan suggests working with regional planners to identify needed flood mitigation measures needed for Ferrisburgh, working with the conservation commission to identify lands the town should consider for conservation, and changing zoning to ban new structures in flood hazard areas.
In the North Ferrisburgh Historic Neighborhood, mostly along Old Hollow Road near Route 7, the plan recommends updating zoning to “reflect the unique opportunities for both residential and appropriate re-use and restoration of commercial structures and small-scale businesses,” and to “allow development based on density instead of minimum lot size.”
The plan defines the South Business district as an area on Route 7 near Vergennes on both sides of Route 7 south of the railroad crossing and on the west side of Route 7 between Monkton Road and Route 22A. There, the plan recommends reviewing and revising zoning regulations and consulting with Vergennes to determine which uses in the area are the “best future uses.” It also suggests scale and massing design standards.
The two Industrial areas are both near railroad tracks, one just off Route 7 north and south of Tuppers Crossing and east of the tracks and accessed by Tuppers Crossing and 22A, and one near the track where it meets Long Point Road.
The plan suggests that industrial growth in the southern district should be encouraged if it “connects directly to existing development in a way that facilitates shared resources and utilities, provides opportunities for a diversity of multi-modal connections to street networks other than Route 7, (and) maintains unique natural and cultural features.”
Beach believes the level of public input to this point means the plan should reflect the will of Ferrisburgh residents, and said that more feedback and questions are always welcome.
“It’s a public process, so I would urge people to attend who have questions or concerns,” he said.
And assuming the plan makes it through the final planning and selectboard hearing process this time around, planners will have another task: aligning Ferrisburgh zoning with its new plan.
“With the town plan completion, the planning commission will be charged with rewriting the town’s zoning bylaws,” Beach said. “That will be the process immediately started.”
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