DUMMERSTON -- New districts, new boundaries and newly allowable land uses are part of a proposed -- and, some say, long overdue -- update to Dummerston's zoning regulations.
The changes are the subject of public forums scheduled for April 22 at Dummerston Community Center and May 6 at Dummerston Congregational Church. Both sessions start at 7 p.m.
Dummerston Planning Commission Chairman Sam Farwell also is encouraging residents to examine the proposed new zoning map, which is available online at dummerston.org.
"Depending on where you live, it could be a significant change," Farwell said. "My message to the town is, I want them to look at the maps and see what it means to them and not find out too late."
Land use has been a big topic in Dummerston lately: Officials and residents recently completed a long-debated revision to the town plan for the Route 5 and Route 30 corridors.
The town's new, proposed zoning map builds on that effort, with Farwell saying "zoning in the corridors largely reflects the town plan map that was adopted in February."
But the zoning plan also goes far beyond the boundaries of those corridors. It's been in the works since the adoption of the 2010 town plan, and Farwell believes the changes are necessary to accommodate the town's current and future development.
"Zoning was established in Dummerston around 1970," he said. "And this map has not changed much. Zoning has been amended, but the map has changed very little."
Name changes are part of the revisions being suggested now. Those who examine the Planning Commission's map will notice that the reserve and forest reserve zoning districts are gone, and there are four new districts proposed -- rural, productive lands, residential and settlement area.
"'Rural' is an example of a brand-new district that was created in the town plan, and so we were tasked with creating it for zoning because the town plan calls for it," Farwell said.
The plan also calls for a "resource" district. The Planning Commission has changed that label to "productive lands," believing that moniker more accurately reflects uses in the district.
The "settlement area" district takes a zoning philosophy currently applied only to West Dummerston Village and spreads it to Dummerston Center and the Slab Hollow area. All three sites would get half-acre minimum lot sizes.
"The town plan recognized those other two areas -- Dummerston Center and Slab Hollow -- as places where there have been town centers or village centers historically. Because of that, there are a number of very small lots there already," Farwell said. "And so the two-acre lot-size zoning (in Dummerston Center and Slab Hollow) was always problematic. These lots had predated zoning and were very small."
Overall, Farwell said, planners have tried to propose more allowable uses in most districts. As an example, he points to the area of East-West Road and Schoolhouse Road in East Dummerston, a spot currently zoned rural residential.
"It's changed to 'residential,' which means the minimum lot size has gone down from two acres to one acre," Farwell said. "Also, a retail store and a restaurant are allowed uses, which previously only were allowed in commercial districts."
Another such example occurs on East-West Road on the western side of town, in a largely undeveloped area now zoned rural residential. A proposed change to "rural" zoning carries larger lot sizes and more uses.
"Rural residential, in current zoning, did not allow some of the things that we do allow in rural," Farwell said. "So even though it's moved to what you might think is a more-restrictive district, it is allowing auto service and repair shops. It's also allowing a building trade/repair shop."
For the rural commercial and commercial/light industrial districts, the Planning Commission is proposing a reduced minimum-lot size while also allowing a larger percentage of each lot to be covered by development.
"The whole point is to avoid sprawl," Farwell said. "(So) why not allow for more-compact development?"
The upcoming forums are a chance for residents to "ask questions and clarify, but also tell us what you think," Farwell said. The sessions will be followed by a still-unscheduled public hearing.
"That gives us plenty of time to get the final, proposed zoning to the Selectboard for them to hold their public hearing, which is required, before they start their budget process in the late fall," Farwell said.
Final adoption of the zoning map will be up to the Selectboard.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.