What is a town plan?
Towns are not required to have town plans, also called comprehensive plans, but if they do, Vermont statute (24 VSA section 4382) lays out the parts they must contain. Town plans lay out a vision for the town for the next eight years, and form the basis for any land use regulations. Towns are required to have a valid plan in place if they are going to adopt or amend any bylaws, but the expiration of a plan will not affect bylaws in place. But town plans are not just about what kind of zoning to have, they are the sole comprehensive place where towns describe what they plan to do over the next eight years, from fixing the town hall roof to buying a fire truck.
Town plans are not required to be regionally approved by TRORC, but for us to approve them they must be consistent with the state planning goals in 24 VSA section 4302. Regional approval is needed for access to some grant programs and downtown or village designation. Town plans also function as the community development plans required for CDBG grants.
Town plans are generally aspirational, non-binding documents, but they have quasi-regulatory effect on development projects that require an Act 250 permit, where compliance with town plans is mandatory. State review of energy projects look to town plans for guidance through the 248 process when issuing a certificate of public good, and a separate regional determination of energy compliance is needed for town plans to have greater standing during those reviews. Even access permits onto town or state highways have to be compatible with town plans under 19 VSA section 1111(b).
What is the adoption process for town plans?
The town plan adoption process is laid out in sections 4484 and 4385 of Title 24 of the Vermont Statutes. The planning commission must do a physical mailing and then must warn and hold at least one hearing on the draft plan before sending it on to the Selectboard (SB). Towns must publish a hearing notice in the paper that lists all of the chapter headings. The mailing will have a cover letter to all parties, the draft plan with maps, the hearing notice, and the required report form (template at end of adoption checklist). Planning Commissions (PC) should make sure the town clerk has a single-sided master copy of the plan (for copies) as well as three copies of the hearing notice to post. The basic process is that the PC holds at least one warned hearing. On notices, you can only count the day it is printed or the hearing date, but not both in your 15-day calculation. Hearings require 15 days notice but remember the first mailing has to be 30 days before the hearing.
After its hearing(s), the planning commission will formally send the draft plan to the selectboard, who have to hold their own hearing(s). At least two selectboard hearings are required in towns with over 2,500 people. The selectboard’s first hearing must be at least 30 days after the planning commission sends them the draft. There is no mailing at the SB level. In terms of making changes to the draft during the hearing process, the planning commission may make changes after its hearing without triggering another hearing. “Substantial changes” at the selectboard level, however, do trigger another hearing by them, but the draft does not have to be sent back to the planning commission. A copy of the changed draft plan needs to be sent back to the planning commission for comments.
More information is found at http://www.trorc.org/member-towns/town-plan-approvals/. There is a handy adoption checklist with two parts (one for plans and one for bylaws). TRORC recommends treating all amended, adopted, or readopted processes as the same.
What is the process for town plan approval by TRORC?
Per 24 VSA section 4350(A), a municipality may request regional approval of their town plan by the Regional Commission. When requested by the Selectboard, TRORC review’s the town plan to determine if the document is consistent with the State’s planning goals, the Regional Plan and the approved plans of other municipalities in the region. It is best to ask us for an informal review prior to plan adoption in case there are areas that need to be fixed.
Per 24 VSA section 4352, towns may also request a simultaneous regional determination of energy compliance by TRORC, which reviews the plan under a set of guidelines for energy planning. Please see our town plan approval page for more information.
What is the Regional Plan?
The Regional Plan is very similar to the town plan in its required parts (though these are laid out in 24 VSA section 4348a), except the scope is regional. Unlike town plans, the Regional Plan must be consistent with the state planning goals in 24 VSA section 4302. For more about the Regional Plan, click here.
How are town and regional plans used in Act 250?
All projects that trigger Act 250 permitting must conform to the local and Regional Plan. In this way, the plans themselves can have regulatory effect. However, this is limited to where they clearly have mandatory language. For example, a policy that “encourages shared parking lots” can be used in Act 250, but can’t mandate shared lots, but a policy that states, “shared parking will be used, when present, to minimize creating impervious surface” creates a mandate. For more on Act 250 go here.
What maps are in town and regional plans?
Both town plans and the Regional Plan are required to have a series of maps, some of which are often combined. One of the main maps is the Future Land Use map, as that is used on the local level to guide zoning districts, and at the regional level to indicate areas for various levels of use. We make a variety of maps using our Geographic Information System (GIS). Click here for more on our mapping services.
What kind of emergency plans are there?
This information is located in another part of our site, click here. Go to Emergency plans