What is a town plan?

Town plans are visionary documents for all aspects of what a town would like to see happen to it over the next five years. Town plans are written by Planning Commissions and approved by either a town vote or a vote of the legislative body (Selectboards for most towns). Both Planning Commissions and legislative bodies have publicly warned hearings on drafts.  The process of developing a Town Plan should involve extensive input and communication with the community as it is intended to represent the citizen’s vision for the future of their town.  Additionally, town plans should include up-to-date information about the community including population, demographic and economic data.  This information is used to help inform the plan.

Town Plans are not required by law to be consistent with state planning goals (24 V.S.A. § 4302), but there are several state programs that require an “approved” Plan.  The Regional Planning Commission, upon request of the community, can review a Plan for approval.  To be approved, the Regional Commission must find that the Municipal Plan includes the required elements, is consistent with the State’s planning goals and is compatible with the Regional Plan.

Town plans are required by statute (24 V.S.A. § 4382) to contain a number of specific elements.  In particular, town plans need to have a section (including a map) on the town’s desired future land use, and this section is not meant to be regulatory, but to guide subsequent regulations. However, they can have regulatory effect in two places. First, if a town plan has specific, directive language (for example: gas stations shall be prohibited from floodplains), conformance by a project with that language can be required in Act 250. Towns desiring less regulatory effect should use words such as “should”, “encourage”, and “consider” to ensure that their plans are not used in this way.  Town plans can also have a regulatory effect in the granting of access permits, in that these permits have to be compatible with the town plan.

Town Plans are intended to be “living” documents that change over time to reflect the changing vision of the community.  Through the plan, it is intended that communities will implement their vision.  Each plan should have a range of action items that will help the community reach their vision.  TRORC offers town plan technical assistance and will assist Planning Commissions with the process of developing and drafting a town plan on a contract basis.

Town Planning Manual

The purpose of this manual is to provide a guide for municipal planning commissions in fulfilling their role and responsibilities as set forth in 24 V.S.A. Chapter 117, the Municipal and Regional Planning and Development Act. A major role of the municipal planning commission is to develop the municipal plan. The 2016 Planning Manual provides information that will help the planning commission with this complex task, from designing the planning program to adopting the plan.

Module 1: The Municipal Plan – New and up-to-date guidance to help citizen planners build consensus on the community’s top priorities and develop concrete action steps that local leaders can achieve.
Module 2: State Designation Programs – A concise guide on the five state designation programs and their benefits — along with case studies that show how communities have used the designations to achieve their goals.
Module 3: Best Practices in Plan Implementation [Forthcoming 2017] – until Module 3 becomes available, refer to the Vermont Land Use Planning Implementation Manual – a package of 30 topic papers introducing a wide range of concepts, tools, and techniques for helping communities achieve their planning goals.

Town Plan Resources:


Staff Contact

Kevin Geiger, Senior Planner
kgeiger@trorc.org