Ferrisburgh selectboard adopts town plan

FERRISBURGH — After a multi-year process Ferrisburgh has a new town plan. The Ferrisburgh selectboard made it official on Aug. 15 by unanimously adopting the plan as proposed by the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission.
The plan creates eight “Planning Areas” and makes recommendations for land use policies and actions for each.
Adoption of the plan does not change zoning, but lays the groundwork for the planning commission to rewrite Ferrisburgh’s zoning laws to reflect changes in the plan, which also includes density bonuses for landowners and developers in some districts and some restrictions on the scale and placement of buildings in others.
Plan adoption had been held up this summer by a debate over a Route 7 zoning map changed from the previous plan. The selectboard did not agree with moving two properties on the highway’s east side from a Highway Commercial District to a less permissive Conservation zone.
Properties across the road and just north of Lewis Creek remained in the Highway Commercial District. Selectboard research into years of planning minutes uncovered no reason for the change, which was protested by property owner Clark Hinsdale.
But Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said the town’s attorney determined that if the selectboard wanted to over-rule the planners and move the map line to its former location it would be considered a “substantial change” to the proposed town plan.
And if a selectboard makes a major change to a plan proposed by a planning commission it must then be sent back to planners for more hearings, and then return to the selectboard for yet more hearings.
Lawrence said selectboard members at their third and final plan hearing, held on Aug. 8, agreed it was time to put a plan in place and allow planners to move along to their next task — rewriting zoning laws that officials believe are outdated.  
“I think ideally we would have liked to have the map changed if it was a minor (change),” Lawrence said. “But since that wasn’t the case we didn’t want to hold up the town plan.”
Lawrence said the selectboard hopes the status of the Route 7 properties can be dealt with during the zoning rewrite. An amendment to the plan could be a possibility.
She said some movement toward compromise looked possible among Hinsdale and planners who attended the Aug. 8 hearing, although Hinsdale was “disappointed that the planning commission did not work harder” to resolve the map issue during the adoption process.
“Clark was there and he was very respectful about the decision and plans to work with the planning commission and zoning board about the rewrites,” Lawrence said. “That bounces back to the planning commission. They all seemed to be in agreement that things could be worked out.”
The plan section entitled “Land Use Plan” contains the material on which future zoning will be based; that section describes the eight Planning Areas.
One significant 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 area “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 design restrictions on individual buildings, but deal with their size and placement in relation to existing structures. 
The other planning areas are the North Business, 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 also suggests scale and massing design standards. 

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