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

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Overview

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

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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!

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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



Community Design

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Well-designed places have positive economic, health and wellness, environmental, and social benefits. They are also more resilient in the face of economic slumps and natural disasters. A network of well-designed communities is the key to strong regional growth. 

In the Rutland region, a well-designed community starts with a compact center surrounded by working or open space lands. Core principles of solid community design include walkability, mixed uses, connected streets and roads, incremental growth patterns, a human-scaled all-modes transportation network, and lasting architecture.
 
RRPC collaborates with towns to create well-designed, thriving places through our town planning programs.  We also review project site plans for developers, local planning commissions, and town development review boards to ensure that core principals of design are maximized and that projects can move through permitting processes as efficiently as possible.

We would love to meet with your planning commission, review board, or firm to explore how integrating great design principles can enhance your town or development project. Call today!
Ed Bove ♦ (802) 775-0871 x 208

Town Planning Grants

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Municipal Planning Grants are a great way for towns to fund local planning initiatives.


The Municipal Planning Grant (MPG) program is designed to encourage and support local planning and revitalization. Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development administers the MPG program, which runs on an annual, competitive cycle. Planning initiatives include town plan and zoning updates, studies to plan for future growth and development, and projects to improve the quality of life.


Rutland region towns have received over $1,250,000 in MPG awards since 1998. Projects range from updating and revising town plans and zoning, protecting river corridors in Pawlet, developing a stormwater and stream corridor program with outreach in Rutland Town, revising speed ordinances with traffic studies in Poultney, purchasing computers and software to assist zoning administration and enforcement in Castleton, commissioning an agricultural development strategy in Tinmouth, developing a creative economy organization in Middletown Springs, creating a smart growth plan for the Killington Road Commercial District, and developing a downtown village master plan in West Rutland. (Phew! --and that only scratches the surface!)

 
Applications are due annually in September. Contact RRPC if your community is interested in applying or in project development. We can help you with the application, write a letter of support or even bounce around potential project ideas with you. For information about eligibility, funding priorities, and competitive criteria please review the FY18 Program Description and visit the application page.


Amanda O'Conner ♦ (802) 775-0871 x 202

Village Center & Downtown Designations

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Village center and downtown designations help to unlock a town’s economic potential by incentivizing development in areas that produce the highest tax revenues.

Designations from the state open the door to grants, tax credits, and other incentives. There are about a dozen designated village centers and three designated downtowns in Rutland County.

Village centers and downtowns provide a place for people, commerce, and local government to come together.  These areas are where community suppers are held; the route of the annual parade; where people come to get the news and see a neighbor; the location of the local polling station; and the place to buy a cup of coffee and a donut. They are the economic and cultural center of the community.

 

Village Center & Downtown Designation Technical Terms

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Typical characteristics

Village centers and downtowns are typically comprised of the historic center of town, including residential, civic, religious, and commercial buildings, arranged cohesively along a core of intersecting streets. By design, these centers are more compact than other sections of town. The mix and concentration of homes and businesses lend naturally to economic vibrancy.

The development pattern of a compact center surrounded by working lands supports statewide planning goals to “plan development so as to maintain the historic settlement pattern of compact villages and urban centers separated by rural countryside…” 24 VSA Chapter 117 § 4302(c)(1).

 

As defined by state statute

Downtown

Downtown means the traditional central business district of a community that has served as the focus of socioeconomic interaction in the community, characterized by a cohesive core of commercial and mixed use buildings, some of which may contain mixed use spaces, often interspersed with civic, religious, residential, and industrial buildings and public spaces, typically arranged along a main street and intersecting side streets that are within walking distance for residents who live within and surrounding the core and that serves by public infrastructure such as sidewalks and public transit. Downtowns are typically larger in scale than village centers and are characterized by a development pattern that is consistent with smart growth principles. 24 V.S.A. chapter 76A § 2791.

Village Center

Village center means the core of traditional settlement, typically comprised of a cohesive mix of residential, civic, religious, commercial, and mixed-use buildings arranged along a main street, and intersecting streets that are within walking distance for residents who live within and surrounding the core. Industrial uses may be found within or immediately adjacent to these centers. Village centers are typically smaller in scale than downtowns and are characterized by a development pattern that is consistent with smart growth principles. 24 V.S.A. chapter 76A §2791.

 

The Designation Program

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The designation program was created by the Vermont legislature in 2002. 24 V.S.A. chapter 76A. Designation is the state’s conduit to recognize and support local revitalization efforts with financial incentives for public and private investment.

Historic centers with existing civic and commercial buildings that meet the definition of a village or a downtown are encouraged to apply for designation. Applications are reviewed quarterly by a review board at Agency of Commerce and Community Development.  Full details about the village center and downtown applications are available to download from ACCD’s website.

 
RRPC is your local partner for completing village center and downtown applications. Call us today to get started!
Amanda O'Conner ♦ (802) 775-0871 x 202

Designation Benefits

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The most commonly used benefits are tax credits, priority to municipalities for grants from the State of Vermont, state buildings priority, Neighborhood Development Area designation eligibility, and technical assistance from the state. Click here for a list of funding opportunities compiled by the state that accompanies designation status. Here’s a Success Story from St Albans where they leveraged state funding, tax credits, and private investment.

Applications for tax credits are competitive and applications are due annually on July 1. Full information can be found here. Currently, credits range from 10-50% of investment costs, support building façade improvements or rehabilitation, technology and code upgrades, and may be combined with the federal historic rehabilitation program.

 
RRPC is your local partner for completing village center and downtown applications. Call us today to get started!
Amanda O'Conner ♦ (802) 775-0871 x 202

Cooperative planning in the region.

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