Planning Commission considers impact of parcelization in the rural district

The LaPlatte River is a crucial wildlife connector. Photo by Boston Neary

At its meeting on Dec. 8, the Planning Commission heard a presentation by Jens Hilke, a conservation planning biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, about the impact of development in rural areas of Vermont on forests and wildlife habitat.

Forest fragmentation creates habitat blocks, which leads to a decline in biodiversity, unless connections are preserved between and among those blocks. Hilke noted that in Shelburne, much of the connectivity is provided by waterways, such as the McCabe Brook and the LaPlatte River. The transportation structure often impedes, but may improve wildlife crossings by adding culverts that allow for safe passage. He added that dogs and cats also threaten biodiversity and recommended looking at prohibiting paths and animals in designated natural areas.

Following Hilke’s presentation, Town Planner Dean Pierce reviewed the zoning bylaws and subdivision requirements for Planned Unit Developments in the rural area, highlighting several instances where the language was “mushy” and subject to interpretation. Hilke recommended looking at the requirements in Williston, Warren, Hartford, and Shrewsbury for language that could clarify intent.

Commissioner Kate Lalley discussed the suburbanization of the rural areas, noting that growth areas are often in the wildlife corridors, and suggested that density requirements be changed to promote more hamlet-style development in the rural areas.

Hilke commented that changes in demographics indicate that different types of development will be desirable in the future. He reported that both millennials and baby boomers do not want the single-family home at the end of a long driveway model that has been the past pattern, but rather prefer living in mixed-use, walkable areas. Lalley suggested that more infill development would meet this demand. The commission will continue its consideration of changing the bylaws and regulations for the Rural District at a future meeting.

The commission next reviewed amendments to the zoning regulations to promote multimodal connectivity within and between neighborhoods. Lalley had taken the lead in drafting the amendments which would require paved sidewalks connecting to state or town roads in the Commerce and Industry District in addition to the existing requirement for paved sidewalks in the Village Center, Village Residential, Shelburne Falls Mixed Use, and Village Institutional-Museum Districts. In addition, the DRB could require pedestrian walkways (paved or graveled) and/or bicycle facilities in other districts if they found there will be site-generated demand.

A final review of the amendments will take place at a future meeting, and a public hearing warned on the changes.
In other business, Pierce reported that an application for a wind turbine project had been withdrawn and that a municipal planning grant application for a village traffic study had not been funded.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be held on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7pm in the Municipal Center.

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