Saturday November 3, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- After three years of meetings, and countless hours of gathering input from individuals and groups throughout town, Brattleboro’s town plan is getting closer to the finish line.

The Selectboard will hold a public hearing Monday, Nov. 5 at 6:15 p.m. in the Selectboard Board Meeting Room, and then a second hearing on Nov. 20.

The two meetings will most likely be the final times residents will be able top weigh in on the 164-page document, unless there any major changes accepted by the Selectboard.

If the board does hear concerns that the members feel should be addressed, then the town plan will go back to the Planning Commission.

But after years of work and public meetings, which had the Planning Commission working closely with residents involved with the arts, housing, education, the environment, energy and development,

"This has been a three-year process and a lot of people have put their passion, and thoughts, and interests in to this document," said Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis. "We think this plan represents the aspirations of this community. We think it is ready for adoption."

Brattleboro’s town plan has not been completely rewritten in almost 10 years.

In 2006 the Putney Road Master Plan was added to it, and then in 2008 the West Brattleboro Master Plan was included, but at both times the core 2003 plan remained.

Francis said for the new plan the Planning Commission started from scratch and the document that the Selectboard will consider Monday night presents a snapshot of where the town is in 2012, and how it hopes to grow in the next five years.

Francis said the new plan also reflects technological changes in both publishing and in mapping and natural resources inventory.

Once the plan is approved by the Selectboard the plan will include color maps and photos, and the plan will also be published as a PDF file that will allow residents to move through it using links and bookmarks.

Throughout the process of developing the new plan, Francis said the Planning Commission worked closely with Brattleboro residents who were engaged in the various topics.

Developers, bicycle and pedestrian advocates, artists, and energy and natural resource experts worked in committees that went through the former plan and debated Brattleboro’s role in creating a more sustainable and successful future.

Francis said a plan must both chart a course for the future, while also allowing for unforeseen changes.

"It’s a balance," he said. "You want it to be specific to provide guidance, but it has to be general to make it relevant.

Over the past three years, while the Planning Commission was working on the plan, Brattleboro faced some significant events that were impossible to ignore.

Tropical Storm Irene forced the Planning Commission to think about development in the floodway, and the plan recommends that the Planning Commission take a closer look at zoning regulations in the coming years.

And a string of pedestrian deaths over the past year highlighted the need to improve pedestrian safety and to put resources into improving bicycle and pedestrian travel.

The final two public hearings will be important, said Francis, but he said he did not expect too many surprises as the Selectboard prepares to adopt the plan.

The plan reflects the economic realities of both a shrinking population and of a sluggish economy.

One of the major changes includes putting resources into the town’s waterfront by creating overlay districts that open up controlled development along the Connecticut and West rivers to allow more access tot he water.

Many of the recommendations are not growth-based, but rather address how the town can improve the resources it has and improve living condition for its residents without major capital improvements.

Town Planner Sue Fillion agreed that the strength of the proposed plan lies in the numerous hours that has already been put into it.

The public has been weighing in the whole time, she said,

"We wanted to write a contemporary plan that reflected what the community concerns were," Fillion said. "A lot of people were involved with this and we think it is a plan that people are going to be able to use. We think it is ready for adoption."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer .com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.