Cornwall revises zoning rules

CORNWALL — Cornwall town officials are trying to make it easier for development plans to be submitted and reviewed, and to enable applicants to better shape their building proposals to fit the topography and character of individual neighborhoods.
The Cornwall Planning Commission on Jan. 16 will hold a public hearing to get feedback on major revisions to the town’s 2008 zoning bylaw and subdivision regulations that reflect these aims.
Cornwall planners have been working on the revisions since 2017. The updates are intended to dovetail with the priorities set forth in Cornwall’s town plan and give developers, planners and citizens more clarity on the community’s priorities for “orderly community growth.”
The Planning Commission, according to its Chairwoman Holly Noordsy, worked diligently on public outreach to identify issues and concerns addressed in the revisions. These efforts included holding a “community values mapping workshop” and two additional public meetings to gather input. The commission met multiple times with members of the local development review board, conservation commission and the former zoning board of adjustment. It also solicited feedback from Cornwall’s zoning administrator, town attorney and town clerk, and reviewed previous community surveys and planning studies to get a sense of how local residents want to see their community grow during the next decade.
Commission members gave residents regular updates on the zoning bylaw and subdivision regulation revisions through Cornwall’s town newsletter.
“To my knowledge there has been no controversy regarding the proposed revisions and I attribute that to both the inclusive nature of the project development and the remarkable experience of the team involved with the update,” Noordsy said through a Jan. 2 email responding to the Independent’s questions.
Among the zoning and building provisions that the commission has flagged as the “more noteworthy,” the update:
•  Creates a unified bylaw with consistent processes, regulatory updates and updated definitions.
Noordsy called this the most significant of the proposed revisions.
“Having one document that delineates both the process and the standards for land use and development will, hopefully, make submitting and reviewing an application easier for both the applicant and the DRB and/or zoning administrator,” she said. “The planning commission labored diligently to ensure the proposed draft clearly outlined the intent, standards, responsibilities, process and definitions in the proposed regulations.
“A unified document looks different, and is longer,” she added. “The commission dedicated substantial time to creating a singular, successful roadmap and remedy to the list of confusing, omitted or inconsistent issues and new legislative requirements.”
•  Combines the Cornwall and West Cornwall village zoning districts into a single “Village Zoning District” that supports traditional uses and settlement pattern.
“In both villages, most of the undeveloped land remains in large tracts with few owners,” Noordsy explained. “The commission felt recognizing both villages would help advance the town plan goals of improving a sense of community identity and increasing opportunities for residents to gather and interact.”
•  Encourages accessory apartments, adaptive reuse and density bonuses to promote affordable housing.
•  Clarifies the allowed uses of land in town and also spells out conditional uses.
•  Established new “overlay districts” to allow for consistent development regulations and to better protect key natural resources. These newly designated districts include the Special Features Overlay and Wellhead Protection Overlay, and replacement of the former Conservation District with a Flood Hazard Overlay District.
•  Maintains the rural character of town by revising “major subdivision” standards in a way that allows greater flexibility for development to fit the topography and character of surrounding land.
The commission will meet following the Jan. 16 public hearing to discuss the feedback. If there are no substantive changes, the commission will vote to forward the proposed bylaw to the selectboard for its review. If the commission instead determines that big changes to the document are needed, it will then make the changes and warn a second public hearing.
Once the revisions are forwarded to the selectboard, that panel is required to hold its own hearing as part of the approval process.
Noordsy if optimistic the revisions will garner widespread support.
“This update benefited from a team with extensive experience and knowledge of Cornwall’s planning and development bylaws and history,” she noted. “Recent additions to the (planning commission) have brought notable dedication and a diverse set of experience, skills and perspectives to offer significant improvements to the draft document.”
A consultant from Middlebury-based LandWorks helped the commission with the revisions, as did officials from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Cornwall received a Municipal Planning Grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development to work on the document.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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