By Erin Post

Finding a way to strike a balance between the rights of private landowners and the public interest is going to be critical for the town of Fayston in the coming years, residents suggested at a recent meeting.

The town's planning commission hosted the forum December 19 to gather feedback on the Town Plan, which is slated to expire in July of 2007.

Planning commissioners spoke briefly about each of the Town Plan sections they are revising, and took questions and comments from the audience.

Some residents asked the commission to encourage, through the Town Plan, a big picture perspective when it comes to development.

Fayston resident Marge Keough voiced approval for the commission's efforts to collect up-to-date data regarding natural resources, renewable energy resources, housing, and transportation, and said interpreting this information thoughtfully should help the town to decide where it wants to go.

Defining what "rural" means, as distinguished from "suburban," may also be helpful to demonstrate in the Town Plan what kind of community Fayston aspires to be, said resident Paul Sipple.

He suggested including language regarding the town's "rustic quality," citing its dirt roads and non-manicured lawns as prized assets, as opposed to the carefully tended lawns and paved driveways of suburbia.

"That's frankly the nature of subdivision that's been going on," he said.

Select board member Jared Cadwell asked the commission to consider gathering data about trail networks in town and have maps cited in the Town Plan and ready to reference when reviewing subdivision applications.

When development is considered piecemeal, as individual projects are brought to the planning commission, it's hard to step back and see how a series of smaller projects may affect Fayston's trail network, he said, or even the wider Valley's. 

"Frequently, we don't look at it until it's a crisis," Cadwell said, noting that some snowmobilers and hikers are running into trouble connecting to trails that used to run unimpeded through the Mad River Valley, thanks to new homes and posted signs.

Fayston resident Peter Forbes suggested including in the Town Plan a section that explains how "connected recreation trails are critical," in Fayston, giving the planning commission a means to address trail access while reviewing applications.

He also suggested some strategies to encourage a culture of open access, including offering financial incentives to landowners who allow public access on their property or running an annual advertisement thanking Fayston residents who host public trails on their land.

"Something like that would go a long way," Forbes said.

When it comes to regulating growth in town, planning commission chair Chuck Martel said the commission could consider specific initiatives, pending the results of the town survey sent out earlier this year.

"There are things that can be done to put some teeth in this," he said, including limiting the number of building permits issued in a year or limiting the number of lots that can be developed.

Martel cited statistics that show that Fayston's population is aging and that young people are leaving town. Depending on whether residents identify these issues as a priority in the town survey, the planning commission may consider addressing them in the Town Plan by recommending more services for older residents or affordable housing options for young families.

Strategies could include offering incentives to developers who reserve lots for affordable housing in their plans or requiring that large subdivisions have a lot designated as affordable. Zoning laws may also be altered to encourage in-law apartments.

Some residents also suggested the town consider taking a stand on global warming in the Town Plan by including strategies to reduce the town's carbon footprint.

Fayston officials are encouraging residents to submit their surveys before Christmas to allow time to tabulate the results.

Planning commissioners said they will likely review all revised sections of the Town Plan again in February, with another public forum a possibility in March.

The Town Plan must be approved by the select board and the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission no later than July.