BRATTLEBORO -- The town of Brattleboro is going to receive the Vermont Planner's Association 2014 Plan of the Year Award, the organization announced last week.
Brattleboro's 2013 Town Plan, which was approved by the Selectboard in February 2013, was recognized for its use of technology, including GIS-based mapping and data analysis, as well as for encouraging far-reaching community involvement.
"The Brattleboro Town Plan is a model for other towns," VPA committee member Polly McMurtry said. "It is based on thorough professional research into the current conditions of the town and a solid understanding of planning and development practice. It was created with active participation of town departments as well as boards and committees. There was extensive outreach and consultation with the public."
Municipalities that choose to take part in the town plan process must update their plans every five years.
McMurtry said Brattleboro did a good job of including topics ranging from economic development and energy to agriculture, arts and culture.
"Brattleboro has a strong sense of place, a rich heritage and a diverse economy," McMurtry said. "This plan effectively communicates those assets and strives to set forth a sustainable path into the future."
The VPA is a statewide, non-profit, membership-based organization of professional and citizen planners, landscape architects, engineers, housing and economic development specialists.
"It's good to get the recognition, and for us it lends credibility to the process and the product," said Brattleboro Planning Director Rod Francis. "This is something the whole community can take pride and pleasure in."
While municipalities rewrite their town plans every five years, typically that includes making small changes to an original document that reflects what is going on within the community at the time. Before the 2013 town plan was adopted Brattleboro had last done a complete rewrite in 2003. Francis said because the town was doing a complete rewrite, which included changing the format and including new chapters, the town took extra care to get as many people involved as possible. The work started in 2010 when a scoping group was formed to develop the outline and process. An advisory group, with town officials and citizens was set up early in the process and consultants from outside of town were also hired to help.
"We wanted to draw as many people together as possible to discuss the current issues that were confronting the town at the time," Francis said. "That really set the framework for carrying the plan forward."
"Brattleboro has developed a stellar town plan and they deserve this award," said Windham Regional Commission Associate Director Susan McMahon. "It is really accessible and easy to read. They really went to the next level in this town plan."
McMahon also recognized the extra work Brattleboro officials took in including residents from outside of the municipal center while researching and writing the town plan. McMahon said the town used a variety of methods, including forming committees, collecting input online, televising meetings and publicizing the process to make sure anyone who wanted to take part had an opportunity.
"They worked to get as much input as possible and that is important because a town plan helps a town vision on what the community will look like in the future," said McMahon. "Without good public input you can not get a sense of what the community needs. It's hard to get people excited about planning, but Brattleboro was able to get people to come out and get them to talk about what their vision of the future was."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.