After 70-80 people participated in an open house last month to weigh-in on how to modernize Waitsfield’s zoning to create more vibrant villages, the town planning commission met with its consultants from the SE Group for a debrief and to take the next steps.
After the open house, the SE Group drafted a series of proposed zoning changes for the Waitsfield Village commercial district and the Waitsfield Village residential district for an April 19, 2023, planning commission meeting. Proposed changes for Irasville will be presented at a subsequent meeting.
At this week’s meeting consultants Julia Randall and Alex Belensz told commissioners that in broad strokes the open house showed strong support for changes proposed for Irasville and more mixed responses to strategies like requiring upper story dwelling units in the Waitsfield Village commercial and residential district.
Proposed changes for the village residential district include reducing minimum lot size from one-half acre to one-quarter acre to allow for more infill development and increasing allowable lot coverage on lots that are in a future wastewater service area. Waitsfield is in the process of developing a municipal wastewater system that could come online in 2026 if a bond vote is held at Town Meeting in 2024.
Planning commissioners were generally supportive of this idea, but less sure about another proposal to establish a maximum front setback in the district.
The consultants outlined a plan to extend the village residential boundary to the north or establish a planned unit development district in or outside the existing district. They provided a map that showed extending the district to the north end of the field by Waitsfield Telecom and bringing the ag res district east and north to reflect what currently exists as forested land.
Support from the commission for these ideas was mixed. Some members were in favor of having housing, including multi-family housing across from Waitsfield Elementary School, some rejected the idea of extending the district or creating a special PUD district that ran from Route 100 to Old County Road. And others wanted to wait on any boundary changes until the wastewater project and its funding were sorted out.
The consultants suggested the town consider making multi-family housing a permitted use throughout the district which is currently subject to conditional use review which they said discourages housing development. While there was some support for this idea, there was also concern about whether the town would lose the ability to protect the existing settlement patterns and village character.
In terms of the town requiring upper story dwelling units and accessory dwellings with all new commercial development, the commissioners did not like the work requirement, preferring incentives. After further discussion of affordable housing incentives, requiring developers to contribute directly or indirectly to pedestrian access and density bonuses, the group turned to strategies for the village business district. Most of those strategies would carry over from the residential district with the exception of a few that the consultants outlined.
OUT OF COMPLIANCE
They noted that many of the existing buildings in this district are out of compliance with front and side setbacks and suggested changing those to reflect what exists to allow future adaptive re-use of those buildings and encourage infill development that matches the current built environment. There was support for this idea, but not for increasing maximum building height to four stories.
The consultants will edit these proposals and then return with proposals for Irasville.
Planning commissioners turned to a discussion of a joint select board and planning commission meeting that took place the night before on April 18 with commissioner Brian Voigt asking for more notice before any future joint meetings. He said he felt the commission should be getting a deeper briefing from the wastewater working group. Planning and zoning administrator JB Weir explained that that meeting came together quickly and said invitees were notified within hours of the decision to have the meeting.
Commission chair Alice Peal said she would like to receive more communication from the wastewater working group as well.
She said there was tension around whether the commissioner should be included more on the working group’s efforts and copied on memos.
“I mean the project was born within the planning commission. We want more communication and transparency and that got communicated last night,” Peal said.
Board member Kevin Anderson said he knew the wastewater project wasn’t going to be a panacea for every housing issue and said that there’s enough demand in the village and Irasville to use up all the potential capacity. He said he felt there was disconnect around what defines the service area and said he also felt there was interest in extending the service area beyond its current boundaries which are Route 17/100 north to Waitsfield Elementary School.
Weir said the service area remains the original proposed area and said that there had been discussions with people interested in developing property south of Route 17/100 or beyond the elementary school but noted that those were for future phases of the system in the next 20-30 years.
“You have to keep in mind that it’s the planning commission’s role to be looking at planning and what that growth is going to be, taking into consideration community involvement and what the community wants and there’s various options, but you don’t plan your growth by putting in infrastructure,” she said.
She added that infrastructure and expansion should happen “based on what we want Waitsfield to look like and how much sprawl do we want, how much ag/res land to we want to conserve. How much growth is too much growth.”
Anderson went on record stating that he had concerns that restricting the service area might hinder the town’s ability to have more development and asked if a future discussion could be had on that idea of expanding the service area.
Weir said that that concern was valid and said there is frustration in the community that the conversation hasn’t been started yet, and for the commission to take a hard look at where it wants to see development.