FAIRFAX – The Fairfax planning commission held the first of several hearings for Fairfax’s Town Plan last Tuesday night, introducing the document that, once approved by the selectboard, will guide development in the town until at least 2026.
A town plan is a document used by municipalities to set long-term development goals and guidelines in their respective town. Fairfax’s current town plan was adopted in 2013 and is set to expire September 3, 2018.
Tuesday night’s meeting served mostly as an introduction to the plan. The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC)’s Amanda Holland, having written the plan at the planning commission’s behest, handled most of the presentation, focusing primarily on the differences between the 2013 plan and the current draft of the 2018 plan.
Aside from aesthetics – Holland noted that the 2018 plan would be more streamlined in its presentation and design – the primary changes were in the town’s energy goals. The 2018 plan adds an “Enhanced Energy Section” to the town plan, written to address Fairfax’s role in promoting statewide energy goals.
“The purpose of it is to ensure that we are complying with the 90 percent energy efficiency standards that the state has set for 2050,” said planning commission assistant and zoning administrator Amber Soter, who explained that the section focused primarily on “where we are now, what we need to do to accomplish some of those goals.”
The town plan outlines those goals, targeting heating as a low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency and promoting alternatives to single-occupant vehicle commutes. It suggests that Fairfax promote weatherization of Fairfax homes and encourage pedestrian transportation and other modes of public transit, such as the extension of Green Mountain Transit services to Fairfax.
“We essentially adopted the regional plan with a few personalized tweaks,” Soter said.
That language allows Fairfax to have a more pronounced advisory role when considering energy related projects. That advice is then heard by the Public Utility Commission (formerly the Public Service Board), the state’s regulating body for electrical and natural gas infrastructure.
“It essentially allows the town to have a more active role in the public service board’s procedures when they are hearing an application in your community,” Holland said.
“It allows the town to become an interested party,” planning commissioner Martha Varney added. “They can make recommendations to it and the public service board will take those recommendations under advisement.”
The 2018 plan also fleshed out some discussion of infrastructure, something reportedly requested by town residents early in the plan’s drafting.
“It’s recreation heavy, it’s utility and infrastructure heavy,” Soter said. “Those items we focused on quite a bit based on feedback that we’ve received and surveys that we sent out.”
Those discussions are accompanied by relevant maps and graphs highlighting different facets of the town’s growth plans. Those visualizations were courtesy of Holland’s drafting of the plan, something the planning commission said they were grateful for.
A community profile at the front paints Fairfax as a rapidly evolving town. According to statistics cited in the plan, Fairfax is one of the fastest growing towns in the county, having experienced the third largest population growth between the 2000 and 2010 census.
According to the town plan, Fairfax is expected to see its population grow between 26 and 38 percent by 2030. The plan also notes that that population is aging, and that the majority of the population commutes to work.
Also cited in the plan is the fact that the average household income in Fairfax is well above its neighbors’ and that Fairfax’s growth tended to be denser.
The planning commission was optimistic about the new plan and what it could mean for Fairfax, with planning commission chair Greg Heyer favorably comparing the new plan to its predecessor.
“Eight years is a long time,” Heyer said. “This way here we actually have something to guide us for the next eight years.”
Town officials also thanked Holland for her work on the plan, particularly praising her for streamlining the document and making it easier to digest. “She’s been our liaison and has done all of the heavy lifting for the town plan,” Soter said.
The town plan is slated for two more hearings before the selectboard votes on its approval. Those hearings, with the board, are slated for September 17 and 24.
This article was originally published in the paper on Aug. 24, 2018 and was uploaded to accompany the Messenger‘s election guide.