Don’t wait to contact ‘Permit Whisperers’ about projects

If you’ve been thinking about building an addition, garden shed or adding an accessory apartment to your Charlotte home, you’re not alone. As the weather warms, many residents are dreaming of freshening up their living space, adding storage capacity or other construction. Some may even be planning to build a new home, add to their acreage or subdivide their land into building lots.

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?

‘Permit Whisperers’ ready to help

Charlotte’s professional planning and zoning staff team, aka “the Permit Whisperers,” stand ready to help. We can answer your questions about what projects need permits, how Charlotte’s land-use regulations guide what you can build and where, and assist you in the process of getting the permit(s) you may need.

An introduction to the players:

• Aaron Brown recently returned to the role of zoning administrator in Charlotte, following a stint in that same role here in 2018-19. He brings over five years of experience in planning and zoning roles for several Vermont towns, including New Haven and White River Junction His roles include handling zoning permit applications for most simple building projects, writing those permits, zoning enforcement and staffing projects that come before the development review board.

• Larry Lewack is the town planner. He has over 15 years’ experience in land-use planning and previously worked for the town of Bolton as a town planner and zoning administrator. He staffs the Charlotte Planning Commission and researches and drafts updates to the town’s land-use regulations and to the town plan. He is also the staff lead on long-term planning, such as the current East and West Villages project, and consults with his colleagues on regulatory issues in projects going through review by the development review board.

• Rebecca Kaplan is the planning and zoning assistant. She also works with applicants and staffs the development review board for conditional-use and variance reviews. A licensed architect, she has a background in project development.

Development review board role

In 2022, the town consolidated all projects that require board approval into review by just the newly created development review board. For each project, development review board members hold a required public hearing following strict rules for public participation, with full transparency. Their decisions are legally binding and can be appealed only through Vermont Superior Court.

The development review board’s volunteer members include chair Charles Russell, Gerald Bouchard, JD Herlihy, Alexa Lewis and Brandon Tieso. The board meets twice a month, on the second and fourth Wednesdays. Its meetings are all hybrid (available via Zoom, as well as in person at town hall).

Back to your project ideas. If you’re new in town, or new to the permit process, here’s a comforting fact — 80-90 percent of projects can be approved with a simple zoning permit, usually granted within two weeks of submitting a complete application with a plan drawing and required application fee. (And as noted earlier, some projects don’t need a permit at all.)

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 a day. Our “Do I Need a Permit? Zoning FAQs” handout provides a user-friendly overview of the town’s permitting process. It’s available on the town website at

Projects requiring board approval

If your project involves one or more of the following elements, it will need development review board approval, with additional fees and an extended time frame, which can take two-six months from the date you submit a complete application:

• Subdivision of land for new building lots, or to modify a previously approved subdivision and/or building lot

• Site plans for development of commercial properties, and shoreline modifications

• Any building project (including demolitions) or tree removals on Thompson’s Point

• Adjusting lot lines between parcels, for land swaps and sales

• A change in use (e.g., from a single-family home to a bed & breakfast inn or to another commercial use)

• Allowing a variance from lot line standards for setbacks, height limits, etc.

• Appeal of a zoning permit or the denial of a zoning permit.

Application forms and fees for these projects vary, depending on the specifics of your project. The permit fee schedule and a link to all permit forms is in the FAQs document at

Navigating the permit process

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. If you have project ideas but don’t know where to start, call us to schedule an appointment to discuss your plans.

You will leave that meeting with feedback about the feasibility of your project, what additional info may be needed to complete your application, an approximate timeframe, and guidance on your next steps. Contact zoning administrator Aaron Brown at 802-425-3533 ext. 207 or via email.

If you’re not building anything this year but have concerns about a land-use project that’s been proposed in town, many details are available on the town website. Here’s a page with links to projects currently under review by the development review board.

All of the projects listed there have had, or will have, public hearings publicized in advance. Adjoining property owners receive written notification ahead of each hearing, and have the right to speak and be heard. Another page lists all recent development review board permit decisions.

Planning for the future

Outside of the permitting process, the town planner also works with members of the town’s volunteer planning commission to rationalize, streamline and improve the Charlotte land-use regulations. The commission also leads the process of drafting updates to Charlotte’s voter-adopted 2018 Town Plan, a policy document that provides a larger context and direction to patterns of land use. This plan is due for an update in 2026; that process begins next year.

The planning commission is currently working on several updates to the land-use regulations. Drafts of these updates will be presented for discussion at public hearings this summer, further refined following those hearings, then forwarded to the town selectboard for adoption.

Another round of updates will be tackled this fall, arising from the current East and West Villages project currently underway, to be followed by selectboard review (and possibly a town-wide vote in March 2025). More details on planning work in progress can be found on the town website.

What to do next

If you want to get something built this year, it’s best to get started early. Your planning and zoning staff can be reached at town hall Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., or by appointment. Please call us at 802-425-3533 ext. 2. We’re ready to answer your questions and assist you in getting the permits you need.