Opinion – Q&A regarding LURs, part two

By Peter Joslin, Planning Commission chair, and Larry Lewack, town planner

Some people allege there are a lot of unanswered questions about the impacts of adopting Articles 6 & 7. How can voters make sense of these issues?

There is quite a lot of detailed information posted in public sources and shared in the community, including at hearings by Planning Commission and the Selectboard, postings on Front Porch Forum, articles in The Charlotte News, and material on the town website. Outlined below are responses to many of the issues that have come up during this debate.

Article 6 would add ~24 acres to the East Charlotte Village Commercial District (ECVCD). The ECVCD is currently 20 acres in the immediate vicinity at the crossroads of Spear Street and Hinesburg Road. No changes to the larger East Charlotte Village District, which surrounds this small commercial district, are proposed, and none of these changes would affect the rules governing development in the ECVD.

If there were no constraints (such as septic and water capacity, setbacks, existing homes), the proposed added acreage in the village Commercial District would permit up to 20 additional houses or mixed-use units to be built there. The town does not plan to add any municipal water or wastewater systems in that area.

Density bonuses for adding more units of either affordable housing or elder housing in the context of a clustered, multi-unit project are already part of the current Charlotte Land Use Regulations and apply to the entire town. They are not proposed to change now.

Some people claim that this will benefit just one or two landowners. This is untrue. In the planning field, spot zoning is defined as “singling out a small parcel of land for a use totally different from that of the surrounding area, for the benefit of the owner of such property, and to the detriment of other owners.” In fact, there are currently 10 properties within the boundaries of the existing commercial district; Article 6 would add 6 more parcels, for a total of 16 parcels.

It is not feasible to supply precise buildout numbers if Articles 6 and 7 were adopted. There are too many variables and constraints that determine what actually can get built there.

What’s the rationale in favor of the proposed changes?
Long-established Vermont law and town of Charlotte policy (in our Town Plan) is to encourage development in established town and village centers, while discouraging sprawl development across our open landscapes. But the current minimum of five acres per housing unit that’s now the rule in this district directly contradicts these goals. This makes it very difficult for even modest development to proceed. Hence, the Article 6 and 7 proposals.

These changes are primarily about fine-tuning the rulebook to allow limited, very targeted growth in an existing village center. If adopted, they would allow mixed use and planned residential projects in the ECVCD, with more diverse housing options for people to live, work and access services in a walkable village center.

How can residents be assured that future development will be controlled to respect and protect Charlotte’s rural character? Will residents have the opportunity to weigh in?
Any future projects in the East Village are subject to a robust and comprehensive review by the Planning Commission and Zoning Board, who are bound by the very specific rules in the Land Use Regulations (LURs). If anyone has any doubt about how these rules are applied by our citizen boards, just look around you: Charlotte remains a beautiful community that has retained its rural character, with a combination of working farms, forests, individual houses on large lots, and open landscapes, with stringent protection of our natural resources.

Whatever projects are proposed will be held to the same standards applied elsewhere in town and would likely be scaled back or rejected if they don’t fit the rules. Residents have numerous chances to speak on any development, with multiple hearings on every project that’s proposed.

Why didn’t the Planning Commission propose similar zoning density changes for the West Village?
The West Village has a large stock of existing homes on smaller lots, most of which can’t be substantially modified within current rules. It also has a community wastewater system, with limited capacity, which the Selectboard controls. The Planning Commission tackled the East Village first this year because it was identified in the 2019 Town Plan as a priority.

There are already issues in the East Village neighborhood with speeding and no safe bicycle and pedestrian access. Why would we allow more development for this area without fixing these problems first?
The Planning Commission can require developers to install such amenities within their own projects. The Selectboard is responsible for creating reduced speeds, traffic calming measures, and wider shoulders and/or separated sidewalks in the East Village.

Where can I learn more? What are the key documents to review ahead of voting?
The following page on the town website hosts all the key documents about the four proposed articles. There is also a slide deck titled “Rural Villages that Work” on the project page. A panel discussion laying out the full background to Articles 6, 7, 8 and 9 is posted here.

The Planning Commission hopes that residents will take the time to fully understand these proposed changes before they cast their votes. To obtain hard copy of materials posted to the town website, or if you have other questions not addressed here, contact Larry Lewack, Town Planner at (802) 425-3533 ext. 206, or via email.