As Montpelier sorts through issues related to its comprehensive rezoning, it’s important that we don’t create an impression the Planning Commission will ignore the Master Plan. I would not support that and I am aware of recent legislative changes related to the status of Master Plans. But if, in the course of rezoning, we develop concerns with what the planning director has claimed are zoning requirements of the Master Plan, we can take steps to address and correct them.
The Growth Center presents issues that directly affect what we might have to write in rezoning. Our state-governed Growth Center includes the entire city, less what is currently zoned rural. In addition to it, the Master Plan created something called a Smart Growth District in which the same or similar zoning to the Growth Center may apply. The Smart Growth District includes portions of the Rural zoning areas. As things are today, virtually the entire city falls in these two districts.
In short, I am concerned that we may have a Master Plan that would apply Growth Center zoning rules to the entire city and, if so, I question that result because — among a host of other things — we would need to rezone for at least four units per acre in all these districts and within the Growth Center Act 250 review will not apply to developments under 49 units.
Happily, the Master Plan anticipates, on page 119, that the boundaries of the Growth Center and Smart Growth District will be reviewed as a “first step” of rezoning. After a struggle, the commission is going to do that. Since the Master Plan authorizes boundary adjustment we will not be ignoring the Master Plan but rather carrying out its intent. I will vote to recommend to the City Council that we shrink the Growth Center. It is simply too large to meet the state’s expectations of these districts and it will control zoning of the entire city unless we cut it back.
Montpelier’s Growth Center has to be reviewed in the coming year anyway so it should not dictate the zoning we write today. The size of our Growth Center is controversial without regard to zoning issues and so the boundary review should have been a simple, non-controversial event with a professional discussion of the issues. I have an opinion on why it was such a struggle to get this issue addressed and it comes down to one personality who was wedded to a different outcome.
In that regard I want to note that the planning commission is a voluntary citizen body that’s a lot of work. Over the last two years I’ve watched multiple leaders give hours of their time to attempts to work constructively with the Director and engage her cooperation with a majority of the commission. These very citizens who worked to put things back together with the director are now being publicly smeared. Members of the commission who had planned for a constructive, longstanding meeting with the City Council awoke the day of the meeting to find themselves on the front page of the paper, charged by the director with being part of a conspiracy. This was followed by a bridge-burning email that was “mistakenly” sent to all commissioners.
It was difficult to endure obstruction. In the face of stunning and unjustified attacks on fellow members, it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine the Director will ever be able to establish effective working relationships with a majority of the commission again.
The writer is a member of the Montpelier Planning Commission.
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