Municipal Development Plan Renewal Public Forum Summary 9-13-18

PUBLIC FORUM ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE MUNICIPAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN

SUMMARY – SEPTEMBER 13, 2018

Introduction:

Shannon Haggett, Planning Commission Chair, provided an overview of the Municipal Development Plan (Municipal Development Plan – We Need You!). He described the multiple aspects of how it guides and interacts development in the City. It is a resource planning guide, assists in organizational development, and is often necessary for community improvement grants. The State requires that specific plan elements must be addressed in developing the plan. The plan is a dynamic document which is continually reviewed and updated.

The purpose of tonight’s meeting was to hear community feedback on 4 specific areas that are under consideration for revision and updating in the Municipal Development Plan including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Regarding the High Density Residential District (the orange sections of the Land Use Map and Zoning Map  – Do the current dimensional standards (for minimum lot size, front yard set-back, rear yard set-back, building height, etc.) make sense for a “high density” district? What should development look like in this district? What type of development should be approved (or denied) by the City for this district?
  2. Regarding the Agricultural and Rural Residential District (the green sections of the Land Use Map and Zoning Map  – Given our small size and identity as a city center for several local communities, should we continue to have this district and, if not, what should that area look like in the future?
  3. What should the City look like in the future in terms of accessibility / connectivity / pedestrian safety, including:  walking & biking options (trails? paths? the rail trail? a greenbelt connecting right-of-ways?); vehicle speeds, tractor trailer truck traffic, safer crossings; and is the ½ mile radius around downtown truly walkable and, if not, how is that goal to be achieved?
  4. How will the City meet the community’s energy needs in the future?

Small group discussion summaries:

a. High Density Residential (Tim Cook, Danelle Birong).

Among the issues discussed were questions of the need for more housing and how this might affect current property owners. The need for workforce housing and low income/affordable housing was raised. What would be the impact in terms of increased housing if the changes were made? Could high rise construction or apartments be solutions? Would increases cause new infrastructure changes, such as river/storm water overflow, or changes in roads and traffic patterns? Are there topography, wetlands, or drainage concerns with the proposed changes? What would be the impact of the changes on walkability and connectivity to the rail trail?

b. Agricultural and Rural Residential District (Mike Winslow).

The Vergennes Planning Commission is considering zoning in what is currently the Agricultural District to allow more uses, with a particular interest in allowing more housing development options. The discussion group included landowners of two parcels in the district. Neither landowner expressed discomfort with the possibility of changing zoning, though neither indicated interest in developing their land any time soon. The owners of Comfort Hill Kennels in the northern Agricultural District suggested there should be a buffer between High Density Residential and Agriculture.

Overall, the discussion group was divided on the advisability of changing zoning in the district.

Opponents noted the desirability of green space, the possibility for future recreation areas, and suggested that housing needs could be accommodated in other districts. They also noted that once Agricultural land is converted to developed land, it will not be possible to undo that change.

Supporters noted the need for housing in the area to meet the demands of job seekers particularly at UTC, the idea that developing within city limits would decrease development pressure on more rural surrounding towns, and the additional tax base that would result potentially allowing more amenities in the community. It was generally accepted that the current zoning regulations, though nominally allowing one development per five acres, preclude any additional development because it would not be economically feasible to extend water, sewer, and roads to houses scattered on five acre lots.

No consensus was reached.

c. Accessibility, Connectivity, Pedestrian Safety (John Coburn, Carrie Macfarlane).

Above all else, we should take care of existing sidewalks. We are concerned about pedestrian safety, wheelchair accessibility, and ease of access for boaters who wish to travel on foot from the Basin to Downtown. We recognize that in some cases, underlying sewer, water, and storm water issues will need to be addressed before sidewalks can be resurfaced.

We are motivated to make our city friendlier to cyclists. Already, we are a popular destination for bike touring companies. Let’s keep it that way by making on-street cycling conditions safer. Improving conditions for cyclists would be beneficial for more than just tourists; it also would make the city more livable for current residents and more desirable for new residents, too. Let’s make it possible to walk or bike to the school and the grocery store. Our compact city street patterns will work in our favor. It is within our power to make Vergennes the most accessible of the tri-town area.

Truck traffic on Route 22A creates safety concerns for both pedestrians and cyclists. We understand that on-street improvements could be costly and time-consuming. As an incremental and low-cost safety improvement for cyclists, can we suggest cycling routes that avoid Main Street?

For years, we’ve been documenting public interest in recreational trails. The Downtown-Basin Master Plan includes a sketch for a new boardwalk in the Basin. A rail trail connecting the Basin to the park-and-ride has been mapped. A circumferential trail that would allow walkers and cyclists to avoid busy route 7 was once proposed. Let’s cooperate with neighboring towns; connecting Vergennes with other towns via new recreational trails would bring in more visitors and make the city even more desirable. Recreational trails improve quality of life and health, and these kinds of amenities are appealing to the under-40 crowd. Now is the time to bump up the priority and draw up plans for recreational trails.

We wish to improve connections between the Basin and the Downtown. The Basin would be more attractive to residents if we could safely walk to it. The bridge over the Otter Creek deters many pedestrians; we need physical separation from automobile traffic. We can take inspiration from the new Lake Champlain Bridge, which has become a popular destination for pedestrians.

Let’s not forget about existing recreational attractions in the Basin and elsewhere. For example, the shores of Basin are so overgrown that local residents have taken it upon themselves to mow the grass and cut the brush along the stairs. Can we adopt a maintenance plan? Can we start an adopt-a-trail program? Vergennes is replete with hidden assets. Let’s take care of what we have and make it shine.

d. Community Energy Needs (Cheryl Brinkman). The group was in favor of asking ACRPC to assist in writing an Enhanced Energy Plan Section of the Municipal Development Plan. There seemed to be no down side to moving in that direction.

The discussion then moved to brain-storming ideas to achieve 90% renewables by 2050.

  1. Financial Barriers – Take Advantage of grants.
  2. Solar
    • Rooftop PV cells both residential and municipal
    • Encourage arrays in neighborhoods, community
    • Discuss red line options with GMP (batteries?)
    • Larger arrays in Agriculture Zones
    • Remove fencing, allow wildlife movement
  3. Transportation
    1. Establish a local shuttle around town
    2. Fund and install electric charging stations, with potential sites:
      • Shaw’s
      • Kennedy Brothers Building
      • Park – Information Booth
      • Library
      • Schools
      • Falls Park

In response to community questions:

Brent Rakowski noted that the Otter Creek Bridge replacement has moved to #1 on the Transportation Advisory Committee priority list in the county. Due to the work on the Route 17 Bridge, it had been temporarily moved back.

Door prizes:

  1. Shacksbury Cider – Jamie Dragon
  2. Shacksbury Dry – Tim Erickson
  3. $25 gift certificate to 3 Squares – Barbara Levinson
  4. $25 gift certificate to 3 Squares – Renny Perry (donated it back) with Bob Feuerstein the second winner.
  5. $10 gift certificate to Daily Chocolate – Lynette Poquette

-Peter Garon
Planning Commission Recording Secretary