ST. ALBANS TOWN: Public begins to have say about zoning

Hearing raises specific concerns

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

Just
The Facts

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‘It should be a living document.’

- Maren Hill, town planner

ST. ALBANS TOWN — In an effort to move along the St. Albans Town zoning bylaws rewrite process, town planner Maren Hill held a public meeting regarding them Wednesday night.

A small group attended and, while munching on the provided popcorn and strawberries, made many suggestions regarding the town’s future land use regulation.

One of the first items mentioned was creation of additional green, open, and safe recreation space in new developments. Hill mentioned that the current bylaws don’t define green space very explicitly, something that could be improved. In addition, Hill said sidewalks are only suggested for new developments, but could be required under certain conditions in order to increase access to existing sidewalks and recreation trails.

“We can grow our network,” she said.

Another request made by the meetings participants was to align zoning regulations with local, diversified food systems.

“This is a huge topic [in the community],” said David Southwick, resident and executive director of the Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce (FCRCC). Allowing for not only food growing in agricultural land zones, but also food preparation, processing, storage and on-site sales, could increase farm-to-plate food systems, the meeting participants decided.

Removing barriers to certain land uses appeared to be pertinent to many of the ideas raised in last night’s meeting. Resident Joy Kipp suggested allowing for residential use of renewable energy and also asked about increasing the community’s support for the arts, perhaps by allowing “incubator” spaces, or mixed-use areas with both residential and commercial space.

“That’s the kind of thing that could encourage art,” said Hill.

Amy Brewer, a Northwestern Medical Center employee, attended the meeting last night to encourage taking health into consideration with zoning regulations.

“There’s … a growing bit of literature that says zoning can influence alcohol or tobacco use,” Brewer said, indicating that buffer zones around schools, churches or recreation areas can prevent substance use and abuse by children. In addition, creating more recreation opportunities, using mixed-use development where living, shopping, eating and working are located together for easy access, and having grocery stores in communities can help prevent obesity and promote healthy eating.

“I would love to see St. Albans take a look at that,” Brewer said.

Kipp brought up the topic of big box stores, and what the future is for the town’s economic development.

“I’m hoping and praying that we do not end up another Williston,” Kipp said. She added that though she thought the Walmart in town did a nice job fitting into the town’s setting on Route 7, she doesn’t want more stores like that. “It worries me.”

According to Southwick, the FCRCC receives input on the town’s future economic development, and about half want more big box stores, and half do not. Hill pointed out that the town can never prohibit those types of developments – it’s illegal – but can control maximum lot sizes and allow for smaller lot sizes to let in smaller businesses, if that’s what a majority of the town’s residents want.

Other topics were addressed at the meeting as well, with one theme running throughout: if the bylaws create opportunity in one place, they will most likely sacrifice something else.

“It’s this balance,” Hill said, “for people to work [here] as well as live [here].”

Kipp added, “There’s so many variations and so many positives and negatives, depending on your perspective.”

Hill encouraged changing views and priorities, pointing out that the town’s bylaws are supposed to change periodically. “It should be a living document,” said Hill.

More opportunities to share input will arise, she added. “We will hold other meetings,” she said. “I’d love to get everybody involved.”

The process

“This is the first of these meetings,” Hill said yesterday. “It’s good to know what’s important to people.”

The public meetings are one part of a process that has been ongoing since the town’s Master Plan was updated in August 2012. An $8,700 Vermont Community Development Program municipal planning grant was awarded in December 2013 in order to help pay legal and consulting services for the rewrite, and the grant runs out in December 2014.

For additional public input, the town’s planning department issued a community planning survey on Town Meeting Day to help inform the public of the new set of bylaws. “[It] outlined some possible recommendations that we can include in our zoning bylaws,” Hill said (see accompanying report).

According to Hill, the bylaws, written by the planning commission, are more than halfway done. In addition to bringing the laws into accordance with the updated Master Plan, Hill said the commission is also working to condense, simplify and make the current 80-page set more reader-friendly.

Once completed, the draft of the bylaws will be made available and a public hearing will be held at which residents will be able to share feedback. If relatively few changes are required, the Planning Commission will make those adjustments and the bylaws will be presented at a warned selectboard meeting to be changed or approved.

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Town residents still wanting to share their ideas or concerns may call or e-mail Town Planner Maren Hill at 802-524-7589 or e-mail her (satplanner@comcast.net).

Planning survey results …

The St. Albans Town Planning Department issued a community planning survey on Town Meeting Day in March, asking residents to answer 29 questions.

The town received 50 online and 100 paper responses during a voting day when 13 percent of residents participated. According to the survey, this is a strong response rate – usually surveys receive a 4 to 5 percent response.

The majority of those responding were ages 55 and up. Only 2 percent of the respondents were 18-24 years old, 4 percent were 25-34 years old, and 39 percent were 35-54 years old. Out of all of those, 68 percent have lived in St. Albans for more than 10 years, and 52 percent were female and 48 percent were male.

Under land-use issues, survey-takers were asked to rank open space, rural character, affordable housing, sidewalks and bike paths, water pollution, elderly housing, employment and revenue producing businesses from least important to most important.

Respondents indicated that employment was the most important issue, while affordable housing was the least important. Water pollution was the most frequently ranked issue as important or most important with 81 percent of respondents doing so.

To see the full planning survey and resulting zoning recommendations, pick a copy up in the town clerk’s office or see it online at www.stalbanstown.com.