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 eight 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 element (24 V.S.A. § 4382), 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 a 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. Municipal Planning Grants are one way to obtain funding for Town Plan’s in which you can hire TRORC to do the work with your Planning Commission. These are usually due in the fall with work commencing in January of the following year. Please contact Tory Littlefield at vlittlefield@trorc.org if you wish to apply for a MPG. 

Town Plan Required Elements and Related Goals – Downloadable word docx

Town Plan Adoption

The Vermont Planning Information Center (VPIC) has several resources available to communities on planning and zoning work in Vermont. The Plan and Bylaw adoption tool workshop explains the step-by-step process of Town Plan adoptions:

  • Planning Commission Public Hearing: 30-day physical notice is required (certified mail) to surrounding municipal planning commissions, the regional planning commission, interested groups who request the notice in writing, and an electronic copy emailed to the Department of Housing and Community Development. The packet must include the following materials: copy of draft plan and maps, Town Plan report, hearing notice, and solicitation for comments. 
  • Hearing Notice: a 15-day notice must be published in the local newspaper for the planning commission hearing and placed in three physical locations around the community that includes the date, time, place, and purpose of the hearing with a summary of the Town Plan with a statement of purpose, geographic areas affected, table of contents/listing of section headings, and a description of the place within the municipality where the full text and/or maps may be examined. [TRORC has templates of this notice]
  • Selectboard Hearing: If a community has a population of 2,500 people or more, the selectboard must hold two public hearings. Anything less than 2,500 only one hearing must be held (at a minimum). No less than 30 nor more than 120 days after the planning commission hearing may the selectboard hold their first public hearing with a required 15-day notice in the newspaper and posted physically around the community. The notice requirements are the same as the planning commission hearing notice. Once the selectboard has their hearings, they have up to one year of the final planning commission hearing to adopt the town plan by selectboard vote or at a town meeting. 
  • Adoption: Adopted plans are effective on the date of adoption and must be sent to the regional planning commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development to be recorded. 
  • Regional Approval and Confirmation (optional, but recommended): If a municipality wishes its plan or plan amendment to be eligible for approval under the provisions of §4350 of this title, it shall request approval. The request for approval may be before or after adoption of the plan by the municipality, at the option of the municipality. Any such requests should be in writing and accompanied by a copy of the adopted or draft plan (by mail or electronically to TRORC). The RPC will carry out and conduct all related and necessary reviews, hearings, and processes. The TRORC board of directors holds the final decision on Town Plan approvals and confirmations.

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 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 VT 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] – 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.


Other Resources:

Staff Contacts

Kevin Geiger, Senior Planner

Tory Littlefield, Planner