Town Planning

building community

Town plans convey a community’s vision, a vision that represents all segments of the population.

Plans preserve what is great, lay the groundwork for change, and set the stage for the future. The planning process creates an opportunity for citizens to congregate and brainstorm on a shared community vision.


A great town plan will:

  • Address all segments of its community.
  • Use graphics, visuals, and pictures to convey otherwise dense information.
  • Have an actionable plan for improving the community into the future.
  • Have a clear vision for the future that meets needs of all towns’ people.
  • Utilize multiple forms of public outreach to collect residents’ vision for the town.


Town Planning for Non-Planners



A town plan, also called a municipal plan, is a document that sets a vision for how a community wishes to grow and the concrete action steps that are needed to achieve their goals. Town plans are intended to be “living” documents that change over time to reflect the changing vision of the community.  

The plan details how input from the community was gathered, conclusions that have been drawn, and an action plan with what needs doing, when, why, by whom and at what cost.

The plan’s scope is wide; it takes on board a range of issues within the community and attaches actions to each. Topics include transportation, community facilities, the environment, housing, communication, the local economy, and town appearance.

A final consideration: Plans are not meant to be regulatory; they are to guide subsequent regulations. It can, though, have a regulatory effect in two places: Act 250 and Section 248 review. If a town plan has specific, directive language (for example gas stations shall be prohibited from floodplains), the language will influence the state-level review.  Plans with softer language, words like “should”, “encourage”, and “consider” will have less of a regulatory effect.

Bylaws and ordinances are the regulatory tools used to implement the town plan.  They can preserve or protect areas such as scenic vistas, or properties susceptible to flooding. They can also be a tool to sustain the character of a town by providing a framework for how buildings should look or how land should be used—or not used.


Who should be involved

As many people as possible.  While local planning commissions lead and manage the planning process, it is important that everyone in the community is given an opportunity to voice their likes, dislikes, concerns, wishes, hopes and dreams for the community. Local planning commissioners are people who live or work in the community.

The local planning commission is responsible for collecting community input and transforming it into an action plan for the town. Plans are developed for the community, by the community.

Many towns consult residents using a questionnaires or surveys.  Other ways to gather input include:

•    Workshops and focus groups
•    Group walks around the community
•    Drop-in, interactive exhibitions
•    School/youth group competition (e.g. drawing pictures of likes/dislikes etc.)

The process, overly simplified

1.    Get out your pencil sharpeners and put on your thinking caps.
2.    Solicit participation from local citizens – listen to what they say.
3.    Draft the plan – use feedback from citizens and hard data.  
4.    Hold a Planning Commission public hearing that is warned by public notice.
5.    Make revisions, towns over 2,500 must hold two public hearings before the legislative body.
6.    The RRPC confirms the planning process and grants regional approval.


Positive outcomes

•    Your community is equipped with actions that will improve life in the community.
•    Your plan can influence local authorities and other service providers.
•    You will have stronger funding applications for community projects and grants.
•    You will find more innovative solutions to local problems by considering all the community’s assets.
•    You will be part of and help to create a stronger community spirit.


Required Elements


Town plans are required by statute to contain specific elements and to be consistent with state planning goals if they wish to receive regional approval. 24 V.S.A. § 4382 and §4302.  RRPC and the Regional Board will review a plan for approval when asked to do so by the community. The plan must include the required elements, be consistent with the state’s planning goals, and be compatible with the Regional Plan to get approval.

The required elements under §4382:

1.    A statement of objectives.
2.    A land use plan with a map.
3.    A transportation plan with a map.
4.    A utility and facility plan with a map.
5.    A statement of policies on preserving rare or irreplaceable natural areas, scenic and historic features and resources.
6.    An educational facilities plan with a map.
7.    A recommended program for implementation of the objectives of the development plan.
8.    A statement indicating how the plan relates to development trends and plans for adjacent municipalities and the region.
9.    An energy plan.
10.  A housing section, which addresses affordable housing for low and moderate-income residents.
11.  An economic development section.
12.  A flood resiliency plan.


Have No Fear, RRPC is Here!


RRPC is your town’s low-cost, high-value resource to help the local planning commission get the job done. Here are a few ways to use us as a resource.

•    Tap into our planning expertise: Receive guidance, ask questions, solicit advice, get solid examples of best practices from towns like yours.
•    Use our mapping and GIS service center.
•    Take advantage of our technical assistance: get help writing bylaws or ordinances.
•    Contract with us to write the plans or bylaws, or to manage the planning process for your town. Municipal Planning Grants are a great tool for this.
•    Get help understanding new laws and figuring out how to shift practices or policies to follow the new laws.


Not sure where to start? Call Ed. He’ll get you in the right direction with the right staff.
Ed Bove ♦ (802) 775-0871 x 208

Cooperative planning in the region.

© The Rutland Regional Planning Commission