By Peter Joslin, Former Chair of the Planning Commission
“What’s broken?” and “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” have been typical reactions from the fear of change and are the wrong questions we should be asking. Unfortunately, most of the discussion of the pros and cons of a DRB (Development Review Board) versus a PC/ZBA (Planning Commission/Zoning Board of Appeals) has been lost in the weeds instead of looking at the big picture.
As stated in the Vermont Institute for Government, “Planning is the process of designing a community’s future. Zoning is the process of regulating the proposed uses of property to fit with the design.” And, from the Vermont Planning Information website: “In its most basic form, planning is the art of understanding how things are in our communities today, how we’d like things to be tomorrow, and then figuring out how to get there.” Based on my 17 plus years of service, the Planning Commission spends the overwhelming majority of its time with development, not planning. We should—and need—to answer these critical questions:
- Where do we want to be in five to 10 years?
- How much development do we want and where?
- Should the overwhelming majority of development continue to be in rural areas?
- What is the impact of rural development on farming and its future?
- Do we want a more diverse community in which folks of various income levels and ages can become part of the town fabric?
- How (or should) we address our aging population?
- Should the town consider providing some level of wastewater and water in the east and west villages?
It is my opinion that we, as a town, do not know where we want to be in the future. And in order to find this out, the Planning Commission’s sole purpose should be focusing on these questions. Let the Planning Commission plan and the DRB handle all development review and permitting. This approach would enable the Planning Commission to legislate and the DRB to regulate.
Whether or not Charlotte should move to a DRB or not should be decided by the Selectboard, not a town-wide vote. We elect the Selectboard to make such decisions, so let them make them. Yes, there are details to be worked out, but first comes the decision as to what is in the best interests of the town, its residents and the future.
My hope is for a vibrant and healthy Charlotte. To me, this means moderate, healthy growth, enabling people of various income levels to become part of the town fabric. To achieve this, and to retain the open land and farms that we cherish, will require creative ideas enabling more focused growth in the town centers and hamlets. This is what the current Town Plan stipulates. Unfortunately, over 95 percent of the growth has been, and continues to be, in the rural district, which is contrary to the Town Plan.