Opportunities abound for your vision for town’s future

Since January, Charlotte residents have been asked in a variety of forums and different ways how they would like Charlotte’s two villages to develop.

After holding at least 12 meetings, hearing from between 75-120 people and receiving 300 responses to online surveys, the Village Master Planning Project has moved into a design phase, trying to incorporate that feedback into tangible visions of how Charlotte might evolve.

Town planner Larry Lewack and planning commission chair Charlie Pughe are anxiously waiting to see proposals from the consultants the town has hired.

Lewack said participants are eager to see actual renderings of what Charlotte’s village centers might look like. Up until now, all they have seen is images from other towns “of village-scale development in a rural setting.”

Courtesy photo
One of eight “table groups” at a March 16 design workshop at the Charlotte Congregational Church draw on a tissue paper overlay of the West Charlotte Village map, noting areas that might be appropriate for different kinds of development or parks.
Courtesy photo
One of eight “table groups” at a March 16 design workshop at the Charlotte Congregational Church draw on a tissue paper overlay of the West Charlotte Village map, noting areas that might be appropriate for different kinds of development or parks.

“We’re going to take our time, do it right and make sure that we reflect the broad diversity of views that we heard during the six months of the outreach process where there seemed to be not only common themes, but also areas of disagreement,” Lewack said.

They want to include the disagreement because it’s important to be honest about every opinion expressed without being selective, he said. “We want to paint a full picture of everything we’ve heard.”

Dubois & King, a village planning firm that has worked for Charlotte in the past, is working as consultants in this process. The next step is presenting a “conceptual plan,” Lewack said, which should be a written report and images that summarize the feedback they have gotten so far.

Lewack and Pughe still want to hear from any resident who hasn’t been heard, or feels they haven’t been heard. They want the eventual results of all the surveys and sessions to include the views of what the greatest number of Charlotte residents want the town to be.

Although this conceptual plan should be presented in a few weeks, it will not be the end of the process, nor the end of efforts to get more feedback from as many residents as possible.

When Charlie Pughe speaks about this village planning process, he often uses the first person plural, talking about what “we” want, but he is not referring to himself in the plural nor talking about what he and his family, friends nor the planning commission want. He is using the pronoun to discuss what the town of Charlotte, as a whole, wants the future of the town, and particularly the east and west villages, to be.

Pughe feels like the process of getting feeback is going OK so far, but he knows there are still people who have not been heard from. He hopes they will speak up.

“We definitely are continuing to try to engage with wider groups in the town,” he said. “The big ambition is to try to get people to come in, participate and let us know what they want and how they see things evolving for the future.”

There are some people who have participated, but some others have just participated on social media. Pughe and the others working on the project hope to find ways to get those people to actually meet with them face-to-face and with the consultants.

One of the big questions Charlotte must answer is how much infrastructure it wants. Some people would like to see things like town sewer, water and sidewalks developed. Others not so much.

“That’s what we’re going to try to figure out, where does everybody come down on that,” Pughe said.

It’s an essential question for the town to figure out because if land-use regulations are rewritten to encourage some sort of building in town, it first must be determined if the populace supports the building of the infrastructure that construction requires.

“People in general support having some more affordable housing,” Pughe said. “People want to keep Charlotte generally rural and not have development out in the rural areas.”

The tricky question is how do you build affordable housing without more infrastructure.

“We’re going to have to figure out water and sewer because those seem to be the two biggest hurdles in the villages, to figure out what to do to get denser housing,” he said.

It’s important to realize that in Charlotte “affordable housing” may not mean what that term usually means.

“I say ‘more affordable,’” Pughe said. The housing that might develop in Charlotte “may be more affordable as someone’s first home, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be quote unquote affordable.”

The Village Master Planning Project is funded by a $13,400 grant from the state to pay for a rewrite of the town’s land-use regulations and $72,000 allocated by the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission for a two-year project for bylaw rewrites for master plans for the east and west villages.

This is a fortunate time for Charlotte to have more than $85,000 available, Pughe said, “so we’re trying to take advantage and leverage it as best we can.”

The goal of the funds the town received is to do this work with an eye towards updating the land-use regulations with a vote at town meeting in 2025, but, he said, the town may table that if there is something such as engineering work that needs to be done.

“There might be parts and pieces of this planning effort that we can roll out quickly, and other parts that may take a longer period of time to come to fruition,” Pughe said.

One thing he thinks they might want to look at is changes to a land-use regulation that says an owner can only have one use on their property. Because mixed use is banned, you can’t have a commercial space with apartments above, which might be a good way to increase housing density in the villages.

That is how traditionally all villages were built in small towns in Vermont. People had a retail space on the first floor and an apartment above.

To do this in Charlotte you would need a conditional-use permit. Conditional-use permits are not conducive to promoting stable real estate values, Pughe said, because if you sell your property the conditional-use permit does not stay with the property. The new owner has to reapply for a conditional-use permit, even if the type of business they want to have is the same as the previous owner’s.

And Charlotte has lots of conditional-use permits. More than most other Vermont towns, he said.

According to the town’s timeline, the planning commission should be working on amendments to the land-use regulations in the summer and fall, expecting to have any amendments finalized in December. Discussions about proposed amendments will take place at planning commission meetings where everyone is encouraged to share their opinions.

Even after this, there will be a public review of proposed changes during the winter. In other words, lots of opportunities to share your vision of Charlotte’s future.