Ferrisburgh to hold hearing on town plan

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday, May 9, will hold a public hearing on the proposed new town plan that was written and has already been approved by the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the town’s Route 7 office building.
Planners after a March 15 hearing approved the 89-page plan, which has been almost four years in the making, and forwarded it to the selectboard. The selectboard on March 28 accepted the document and chose May 9 for a public hearing.
The selectboard must hold at least one hearing before it can adopt the plan, which it can do if no major changes are made to the version planners approved.
If the selectboard does want to make major changes, including any based on residents’ feedback, the document must return to the planning commission for more work and hearings before it returns to the selectboard.
Adoption of the plan will not change zoning, but it would lay the groundwork for the planning commission to rewrite Ferrisburgh’s zoning laws to reflect changes in the plan, which include density bonuses for landowners and developers in some districts and some restrictions on the scale and placement of buildings in others.
According to March 15 planning commission public hearing minutes, some residents expressed concerns about the two Industrial zoning districts in the plan. One is just east of Route 7, from Route 22A to just north of Tuppers Crossing, and the other is near railroad tracks where they meet Long Point Road.
Residents questioned whether light industrial uses were compatible with nearby farms and homes in the northern district and at the northern end of the southern district, and some expressed concerns about a proposed truck depot on Tuppers Crossing.
The planning commission did not make changes to the plan before forwarding it to the selectboard. Planning commission Chairman Bob Beach said in March the proposed plan is the product of a public process that began with citizen forums in 2013 and that has already taken into account the concerns of the selectboard, the Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission, business interests, the Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth, and many residents.
Although much of the 89-page document is devoted to updated data about Ferrisburgh and descriptions of its history, economy, topography, geology, resources and demographics, the section entitled “Land Use Plan” that begins on Page 70 contains the material on which future zoning could be based.
That section describes eight “Planning Areas” and makes recommendations for land use policy and actions for each of those districts.
One significant suggested change comes in the creation of the Central District Planning Area, which is currently zoned Highway Commercial and Rural Residential. The plan describes it as “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 district that would help create a “community center.”
To do so, the plan recommends Ferrisburgh “incorporate design standards into zoning regulations” that would restrict “scale and massing” of buildings and encourage safe access for cars and pedestrians.
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 structures. Vergennes several years ago adopted similar regulations in its downtown districts.
The other planning areas are the Rural, Shoreland, Conservation, North Ferrisburgh Historic Neighborhood, North and South Business, and Industrial districts.
Among notable provisions are:
•  In the Rural district, the town’s largest, the plan recommends revising zoning to allow development based on density instead of minimum lot size, a change intended to preserve open land by permitting smaller, clustered lots.
•  In the Shoreland district along Lake Champlain recommended actions include creating 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 North Ferrisburgh Historic Neighborhood, mostly along Old Hollow Road near Route 7, the plan recommends updating zoning to encourage “appropriate re-use and restoration of commercial structures and small-scale businesses,” and to allow clustered lots.
•  In the South Business district on Route 7 near Vergennes on both sides of Route 7, the plan recommends reviewing and revising zoning regulations and consulting with Vergennes to determine which uses are most suitable. It also suggests scale and massing design standards.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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