WHITINGHAM -- Planning Commission Chairman Brad Lackey says that for about four years, the commission has worked on adding zoning districts to the town.
Those districts had already been proposed in the Whitingham Town Plan that was adopted in November of 2010.
"That's why we're trying to implement it into the zoning," Lackey said. "We're adding two districts: Conservation and rural. It will be four in total, instead of two."
The other two established districts in town include rural residential and village.
On Dec. 11, the Whitingham Selectboard held a joint meeting with the commission to discuss the districts and proposed changes. Board members were hesitant to support allowing private land to be pieced together to create the conservation district.
Ultimately, the Selectboard allowed the Planning Commission to continue its work on the proposed districts.
A conservation district is meant to protect and preserve farm and wood land.
There was concern regarding the value of land but much of the land that the proposed map touched on was owned by a power company, the Vermont Land Trust or state Fish and Wildlife.
The conversation largely had to do with the rights of property owners.
Whitingham resident and property owner Wayne Corse was satisfied with the hard work the commission was doing but had concerns with some of the boundaries on the maps. He told the commission he would join in work sessions or discussions but would not be joining the commission as a member.
According to the Vermont Division of Forestry website, the state's Use Value Appraisal Program "also called ‘Current Use' or 'Land Use,' enables landowners who practice long-term forest management to have their enrolled land appraised for property taxes based on its value for forestry, rather than its fair market (development) value."
For that program, 25 acres must be kept as forest and two more acres could be used for building a house.
The Planning Commission's proposed zoning would need to keep conservation districts within the 27 acres minimum. The boundaries for the districts were where the Selectboard and Corse had strong feelings.
Lackey handed out maps to members from both municipal groups.
"Every town in the Windham Regional (maps) except Whitingham and Brattleboro have a conservation district," he said.
Setbacks and frontages handled by town zoning officials generally protect towns from unwanted future development. There had been concern about increasing lot sizes within the proposed districts.
"I'm not against clustering," said Selectboard member Karl Twitchell. "When I was on the Planning Commission, what I saw happening, is we're a bedroom community with second homeowners. We're not going to be a big industry town as long as the state of Vermont stays the way it is."
Lackey confirmed that the commission was not attempting to encourage any big development but rather the opposite. He said there were people who were purchasing land to preserve it and people who want to keep the town quiet. Both groups of people had approached the commission.
"That was the exact reason we came up with this," concluded Lackey.
The board and commission came to a compromise, in which rural and rural residential properties would require a minimum of three acres, while conservation would be 27 acres and village residential would be kept at its existing ordinance of 7,200 square feet.
The Planning Commission will go back to the drawing board now to figure out the boundaries of the proposed zoning map.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or email@example.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.