Zoning is done at the local level to regulate most land uses, usually in terms of what can be located where. The various powers and limitations on bylaws can be found in 24 VSA sections 4411-14, as well as sections 4416-17. Not all towns have full zoning bylaws, but all of our towns do have flood hazard bylaws that are enabled under 24 VSA section 4424. You can find a town’s bylaws under the links in Member Towns.

Zoning Adoption

How do towns adopt zoning?

For towns to adopt or amend zoning, they must have an adopted town plan in place. Zoning bylaws start being developed at the local planning commission, which drafts the bylaws, often with contracted assistance from TRORC. The draft then goes through hearings at the Planning Commission and Selectboard level, before it is either voted on by the town or adopted by the Selectboard. Towns only vote to adopt if they have so voted at previous town meetings to do so, or if the adoption is petitioned to go to a vote.

The bylaw adoption process is laid out in 24 VSA sections 4441 and 4442. When going to hearing, Planning Commissions must prepare a ‘report’ as specified in section 4441, and the state has drafted a form that covers that that can be found here. There is also a report and submissions required after adoption. Per section 4442, zoning bylaws become effective 21 days after adoption by selectboard, but are effective immediately if adopted by Australian ballot.

Note: There are two quirky parts of the law to be aware of.

The first is that section 4442 begins by saying that the selectboard has to hold its hearing within 120 days after the planning commission submits the draft bylaws, but then it says one can ignore this. However, bylaws actually must be adopted within a year of the planning commission’s final hearing or they are deemed rejected.

The second odd part is that the draft bylaws essentially go into combined effect with the current bylaws for 150 days as soon as the selectboard warns its first hearing (section 4449(d)), so be ready for this and read that section carefully.

Zoning Amendments & Interim Bylaws

How do you amend a zoning bylaw?

Amendments really follow the same process as adoption of a new bylaw, except in the case of interim bylaws.

What are interim zoning bylaws?

Interim bylaws or amendments are a form of emergency action, can be done by the Selectboard after one hearing and only last a limited time. The enabling statute is found at 24 VSA section 4415.

Zoning Permits & Approvals

What is a zoning permit?

A zoning permit is issued by the town Zoning Administrator/Administrative Officer. It is a permit to conduct activities, such as build a house, and usually has a certain amount of time to do that or it expires.

What is conditional use approval?

Certain uses in zoning require conditional use approval (CUA) before a zoning permit can be issued. This approval is usually given by a Development Review Board. CUA is used to allow a variety of uses, usually commercial, that might be beneficial if certain conditions are met (hence the name). To get approval, you must meet five mandatory criteria set out in 24 VSA section 4414(3) as well as any other standards the community has chosen.

What is site plan approval?

Site plan approval is much more straightforward than conditional use approval. It is enabled under 24 VSA section 4416 and can be required for any use other than a house. Site plan approval is not meant to see if the use is proper, so much as it has met some clear standards. There are no mandatory site plan standards, but common ones related to traffic, lighting, landscaping, and parking.

What if my current or proposed development can’t comply with the zoning?

If the development was legal when it was established, but the bylaws have changed and now it is non-complying, it can usually continue. If a proposed development cannot comply with the requirements of a bylaw, there may be a waiver provision in the bylaw that can be used. Waivers are only for dimensional requirements, usually used for things like setback alterations. A variance is the last resort for a proposal that can’t comply, and it will have to meet a stringent five part test laid out in 24 VSA section 4469 to be granted a variance.

What is a certificate of occupancy?

Go to ask us about permits.

What is a zoning permit?

Go to ask us about permits.