One last look for Manchester zoning proposal

MANCHESTER — The Planning Commission still has work to do in order to get its proposed revisions of the town zoning ordinance and map to the Select Board.

In the midst of its second two-hour hearing on the plan Monday night, the board announced that it has scheduled a working meeting for 7 p.m. Feb. 5 to consider the feedback and suggestions it has received during the hearings and by mail.

More feedback is welcome until that meeting, board members and town planning and zoning administrator Janet Hurley said.

If the commission agrees on those edits and changes, it will send the plan to the Select Board for its own public hearing and vote on the proposal. The timing is important, as once the Select Board has the plan, any application for development must be reviewed under the existing and proposed zoning regulations.

The proposal, which can be found at Town Hall and online is intended to encourage the development of workforce housing and mixed residential and commercial use in the downtown area, while preserving the town's rural character in outlying areas. It's also intended to be easier to understand and use than the current map and regulations.

Monday's hearing was intended to focus on the rural sections of the proposed revision, and much of the attention was paid to proposed regulations for development in the Rural Residential and Rural Agricultural district.

In its update of the town zoning map, the commission established two designations with larger lot sizes — Rural Residential (5 acres) and Rural Agricultural (10 acres).

But the commission also set up a means by which property owners in those districts can develop portions of their property in return for agreeing to preserve the remainder. For the Rural Agricultural district, that's a split of 70 percent preserved to 30 percent developed; in Rural Residential it's a 50-50 split.

Whether that trade-off was enough for property owners was a topic of debate.

"Going from [a minimum] 2 acres to 10 acres is a large and significant step. It is dramatic and it will definitely impact economic value," said Jeff Nyweide of Manchester. He suggested that both designations should carry 5 acre minimums and allow development on 50 percent of the property if the remaining 50 percent is preserved.

Commission member Greg Boshart replied that the proposal will still allow for some development in those sections of the map, and argued that the restriction is needed to assure the rural character of Manchester remains intact.

"If we don't go that far we're not going to maintain that agricultural character," Boshart said. "Personally I don't see how we can make it less stringent."

"What people would hate to see go away is open space," board member Todd Nebraska added.

Questions were also asked about protections for the town's water municipal water source and the ridgelines of its surrounding mountains.

Hurley outlined the aquifer protection overlay in the proposal — a district extending west from the town well off Richville Road to up into the Green Mountain National Forest. That overlay prohibits a number of activities and uses that could threaten the town water supply.

When asked if the regulations could do more to specifically ban development along ridgelines, Hurley noted that those areas, which would be zoned would set a minimum lot size of 25 acres and a 300-foot minimum frontage, as well as numerous usage restrictions.


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