diversity town plan

Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Daniel Monks told the Select Board that the Planning Commission wants to ensure the next town plan update reflects the goals expressed in the town's vision statement on diversity and inclusion.

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BENNINGTON — Inspired by the town’s vision statement on welcoming diversity and inclusion, the Planning Commission wants to consider those themes as it works on the next Bennington Town Plan update.

Planning Director Daniel Monks presented the concept to the Select Board this week and won approval to apply for a grant for diversity/inclusion training sessions for planners.

Monks said the funding also would pay for a consultant to help planners with inclusivity as a feature of the next land-use plan, which must be in place by 2025.

“As you might guess, this was prompted by the town’s vision statement,” Monks said, “and the Planning Commission took that to heart and felt it was very important that that statement was implemented through all the efforts of the commission — most importantly the town plan, which is a policy document that reflects a lot of the aspirations of the town.”

Chairwoman Jeannie Jenkins replied, “I just want to say that I am really grateful to the Planning Commission and the town. It is so wonderful for the commission and the town to come before the Select Board and say, ‘We want to do this.’”

GRANT SOUGHT

Monks said the grant request to the Vermont Community Fund’s Equitable and Inclusion Communities program would be for $6,750 for a consultant or consultants to assist the commission. The consultants also would assist with public outreach prior to work on the next plan update.

“We are coming up on a new update,” Monks said, “and it’s not just an update; it will be a comprehensive update, and it has to be done in 2025. We have a little time, but these things usually take a couple of years, so we want to get started.”

The first part of the effort will be outreach to gather input from the public and from stakeholders, he said, and to develop goals and a common vision for land use in Bennington.

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“That process we anticipate being very robust compared to previous plan updates,” Monks said. “In fact, one of the things we are hoping to fund with this grant is consulting services to be able to develop an outreach plan that is very inclusive of all members of the community.”

He added, “We know that the typical public meetings don’t accomplish that, so we are going to try real hard to get out into the public, interview stakeholders, do what we can to get lots of perspectives, to try to build a consensus and try to understand folks’ goals and desires for the future of the community.”

Step two of the process, he said “is obviously taking all that information and goal-setting in creating common principles that we can then put into a town plan.”

Catherine Bryars and other staff at Bennington County Regional Commission suggested the grant program and developed a first draft of a grant application, Monks said.

Select Board member Bruce Lee Clark said he is concerned about what would happen if the town doesn’t get the grant, adding that he would want to do those things anyway.

“If we don’t, we would be seeking other grant funds and/or seeking funds in next year’s [town] budget,” Monks said.

But the grant sought would allow the outreach process to begin this year, he said, and not have to wait until the next town budget year in July 2023.

The town’s vision statement, adopted by the Select Board in August 2020 after a community meeting process to draft it, says, “Bennington is a welcoming, engaged, inclusive, and resilient community where everyone regardless of identity shares in our vitality and benefits from an outstanding quality of life.”

Jim Therrien writes for Vermont News and Media, including the Bennington Banner, Manchester Journal and Brattleboro Reformer. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three Vermont News and Media newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield Republican, and the former North Adams Transcript.


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