Opinion – Building project on your mind? Planning and zoning can help!

Are you thinking about building an addition, toolshed or adding an accessory apartment to your Charlotte home this year? The relative quiet of mid-winter is a great time to plan your project, as it takes time to line up contractors and get permits and financing in place. Perhaps you are dreaming of adding to your living space, building a garage or other construction. Or maybe even build a new house, add acreage or subdivide your land for sale.

But which of these projects need a permit? Many do, some don’t and some projects may not even be allowed. How to know the difference? And, where do you start?

Charlotte’s professional planning and zoning staff (aka “the permit whisperers”) stand ready to help. We can answer your questions about what projects need permits, how Charlotte’s Land Use Regulations affect what you can build and where, and assist you in the process of getting the permit(s) you may need.

First up, an introduction to the players:

  • Keith Oborne is the zoning administrative officer. Oborne’s roles include administering and interpreting the town’s land-use regulations, reviewing and issuing zoning permits, zoning enforcement and compliance. Oborne is the first point of contact for all development in Charlotte.
  • Larry Lewack is the town planner. He assists applicants who are proposing subdivisions, site plans and boundary adjustments, for non-residential projects for consideration by the town’s development review board (DRB) and staffs the DRB meetings. He also assists the planning commission in preparing updates to the land-use regulations and the town plan.
  • Rebecca Kaplan is the planning and zoning assistant. She also works with applicants for projects requiring review by the development review board and staffs development review board meetings. A licensed architect, Kaplan has a background in project development.
  • Development review board. Members of Charlotte’s intrepid development review board review all projects requiring subdivision, site plan or conditional use approval, boundary adjustments, variances and appeals of the zoning administrator’s decisions. Development review board members include chair Charles Russell, vice-chair JD Herlihy, Gerald Bouchard, Alexa Lewis and Christina Asquith. The board meets twice per month, on the second and fourth Wednesdays, at town hall.

If you’re new in town or new to the process, here’s a comforting fact: 80-90 percent of projects that need a permit can be approved within two weeks of submitting a complete application. But, please don’t make assumptions and start building without first securing the permits you may need. Projects built without needed permits are subject to enforcement action, including potential fines of up to $200 per day. Here is a link to a document that provides a good introduction.

In 2006, Charlotte received delegation authority from the state of Vermont to approve potable water and wastewater permits. Thus, all applications are processed in-house, not at the state level. Those permits are received and managed by zoning administrator Oborne, with consultant support from Landmark Engineering and Design. We are the only town in the state that has this authority.

Please Note: If your project involves one (or more) of the following elements, it will need development review board approval, with additional fees and an extended timeframe (which can take up to two-six months from the original application):

  • Subdivision of land for new building lot(s), or to modify a previously approved subdivision and/or building lot
  • Site plan review, for commercial building projects and shoreline modifications
  • All building projects (including demolitions) on Thompson’s Point
  • Adjusting lot lines between parcels, for land swaps and sales (boundary adjustment)
  • A change in use (e.g., from a single-family home to a bed & breakfast inn, or to another commercial use)
  • Variances from dimensional standards (for setbacks, height limits, etc.)
  • Appeals of zoning permits or permit denials
  • Application forms and fees for these projects vary, depending on the specifics of your project. A link to all permit application forms and permit fees is in the FAQs document linked above.

We realize it can be challenging to understand and navigate Charlotte’s complex land-use regulations. That’s why your planning and zoning staff provides free upfront assistance in the form of a preliminary consultation. We encourage you to call or email us with your questions and to schedule an appointment if you have project ideas, but don’t know where to start. Contact Oborne for a meeting to discuss your plans and to review what permits are needed. He can be reached at 802-425-3533 ext. 207, or via email.

If you’re not building anything this year, but want to know more about a land-use project that’s been proposed in town, information on all projects pending development review board review is posted on the town website. Project materials can be found here. All projects listed there have had, or will have, public hearings publicized in advance. Adjoining property owners receive written notification before the hearing and have the right to speak and be heard. Here’s a link to all recent development review board permit decisions.

Outside of the permitting process, the town planner also works with members of the town’s planning commission to improve the land-use regulations. We prepare draft updates to the land-use regulations, to rationalize and streamline the town’s permitting process. We also look for opportunities to update the community’s vision for its future, via updates to the town plan. The current town plan is due for an update in 2026.

The planning commission is currently working on additional updates to the land-use regulations; these drafts will be presented for public hearings this summer, to be followed by town votes this fall. More details on planning work in progress, including development of permit standards for cannabis businesses in Charlotte.

Your planning and zoning staff can be reached Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with additional hours available by appointment. If you want to get something built this year, it’s best to get started early. Please call us at 802-425-3533 ext. 2. We’re ready to answer your questions and help you get the permits you need. We look forward to working with you.

(Larry Lewack is Charlotte’s town planner.)