BENNINGTON — Proposed amendments to the town’s land use and development regulations are expected to move next to the Select Board for possible approval, following a lightly attended Planning Commission hearing on the changes.
Planning officials last week held a hearing and gave a presentation on the amendment package. The Select Board is expected to hold another public hearing before possible adoption.
The commission will meet again Thursday at 3 p.m. in a Zoom videoconference to consider whether final revisions are needed, said Assistant Town Manager and Zoning Administrator Daniel Monks.
Planning Commission Chairman Michael McDonough said during a Feb. 18 hearing that the commission was directed in the current Town Plan to develop form-based zoning standards for Bennington. That differs from use-based zoning regulations by focusing on the form or design of development projects, rather than simply on certain uses – such as residential, commercial or industrial.
The changes are centered on the downtown and surrounding areas and generally provide greater flexibility for the development of rental housing units, mixed-use and commercial structures, retail space, and for renovations that include “walkability” features to encourage use by pedestrians.
Form-based regulations also allow flexibility for new development in areas where the dominant uses have changed over time.
Catherine Bryars, Community Planning Program manager with the Bennington County Regional Commission, which assisted the town in revamping the regulations, gave a presentation on form-based zoning.
She said work with the town leading to the land use/development amendment also reduced the number of zoning districts from seven to five and the regulation categories from 47 down to 14 – significantly simplifying the zoning regulations.
The amendment package includes illustrations of building or other development forms as examples for developers to consult.
One goal of the revision, McDonough said, was to “make it more understandable to developers.”
The Planning Commission also was asked during the hearing to consider meeting with the town Energy Committee to discuss whether energy-savings or alternate energy related provisions should be added to the new regulations.
More information on the form-based land use changes can be found on the Planning Commission section of the town’s website.
According to a commission media release, the amendment “creates three new form-based design areas in the town center and consolidates regulated land use categories and some existing zoning districts.”
“Ultimately, the purpose of the revised [land use and development regulations] is to foster a clear and straightforward articulation of what is envisioned for the future of Bennington’s core areas,” officials said in a release. “The guiding principle of these revisions is to allow and encourage compatible uses in these areas with less regulatory restriction and a greater reliance on the form of development to ensure and enhance the economic strength and social fabric of Bennington.”
After the amendment is submitted to the Select Board, members will hold at least one hearing and then have the option of adopting the amendment, asking the planning commission to consider changes or adding its own revisions.