Understanding proposed land-use regulation amendments: Part 2

As a follow-up to the background article on the proposed amendments to the Charlotte Land Use Regulations in the Oct. 6 issue of The Charlotte News, here is some additional information for consideration as you decide how to vote.

Q: Why are these changes being proposed now?
A: The town plan and land-use regulations are living documents requiring regular review and updating to stay current with changes in state law and changes within our community. Changes in our community include some of the following examples: an aging population; evolving employment models; school enrollment; diversified housing options; a changing climate, etcetera. Without thoughtful periodic review, we risk the documents becoming outdated and no longer reflecting the values of our community.

Q: Do residents have a say in this process? Was the community involved in developing these proposed rules?
A: Absolutely. Residents have the ultimate say in approving these changes for the town. All of the changes proposed must be approved by voters during the November election.

The planning commission, whose members all live in Charlotte and serve as volunteers, developed these proposals over the course of the last several months. Every work session was announced in advance with posted notices on the town website, Front Porch Forum and occasional articles in The Charlotte News. Every planning commission meeting is open to the public to attend in person or via Zoom. Additionally, the planning commission held two public hearings on these drafts in August. The selectboard held another set of hearings in September. The proposals were revised based upon resident feedback following these two sets of hearings.

Q: Why are the changes divided into separate articles for the November ballot?
A: There are changes to 19 sections of the land-use regulations, with some sections having multiple changes proposed in this round (exclusive of addressing the change to a design review board). The proposed changes are organized into six articles for the ballot to present them as coordinated changes and allow each to be voted on separately.

Q: What are the core elements of an affirmative vote for each of the proposed articles?
A: Article 1 proposes several changes to the land-use regulations that would bring them into alignment with changes in state law enacted in recent years. Towns derive their authority from state law; Charlotte cannot enforce zoning rules which contradict state statute.

These amendments would align the town’s role with state law in: permitting telecom facilities, permitting for renewable energy projects (such as solar panels) and removing non-compliant local restrictions on constructing multi-family housing and accessory dwellings.

Article 2 clarifies and coordinates language across several sections of the land-use regulations, providing better guidance for property owners and the development review board for what projects can and cannot be permitted. Among the proposed changes are technical updates and new (or revised) definitions to standards for projects that serve the public, consolidation of small lots, additions to buildings that are built partly within a required setback and adaptive re-use of historic structures.

Article 3 coordinates language that proposed accessory dwelling units in non-conforming structures have to follow the existing land-use regulations for approval. It also clarifies that temporary structures require a zoning permit.

Article 4 updates references in the land-use regulations to reflect the selectboard’s December 2021 decision to consolidate the permitting responsibilities previously shared by the planning commission and zoning board of appeals into one entity, the development review board.

Article 5 proposes to increase the allowed size of accessory dwelling units from 1,000 square feet or 30 percent of the home’s finished floor area, whichever is larger, to 1,500 square feet or 30 percent of the home’s finished floor area, whichever is larger. Currently, only homes with a footprint larger than 3,333 square feet can take advantage of the 30 percent larger allowance. The proposed change would allow homes up to 5,000 square feet to all build the same size accessory dwelling unit.

Article 6 clarifies the intent of the land-use regulations requiring all lots meet the dimensional requirements of the land-use regulations or be developed as planned residential developments.

Q: Who would benefit from these changes?
A: For additional information regarding the purpose, rationale and effect of these proposed changes, please see the Users Guide posted to the land-use regulations Working Drafts web page on the town website.

Taken as a whole, the proposed changes would:

  • Strengthen the land-use regulations by bringing them in closer alignment with state law, which reduces legal exposure of the town to successful appeals of granted permits based on a claim our bylaws don’t line up with state law.
  • Clarify for residents, planning and zoning staff and the development review board how to interpret and apply key standards for permitting.
  • Bring the land-use regulations into alignment with current permitting roles in Charlotte (via the development review board).
  • Provide property owners with houses smaller than 5,000 square feet the opportunity to build a larger accessory dwelling unit on their property.
  • Clarify that proposed subdivisions of properties not meeting the dimensional standards of the land-use regulations are required to file for subdivisions as planned residential developments.

Q: Where can I learn more? What key documents to review before voting?
A: The following page on the town website hosts all the key documents about the six proposed articles.

The planning commission hopes that residents will take the time to understand these proposed changes before they cast their votes. To obtain a 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.