Manchester town plan getting an update

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MANCHESTER — The document setting forth the town's planning and development goals is nearing its fifth birthday, and that means it's time for a makeover.

The process of rewriting the town plan — which is not to be confused with the zoning ordinance — is being taken up by Janet Hurley, the town director of planning and zoning, with input from residents.

The plan, which Hurley describes as a "rewrite and update" of the 2012 edition, has already been the topic of a hearing conducted by the town planning board. Its next step on the road to adoption is a pair of public hearings before the Manchester Select Board, slated for the board's regularly scheduled meetings at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25 and Tuesday, May 9.

Under state regulations the plan must be updated every five years, though that is being extended to eight years in the future.

"It's the guiding document for the town." Hurley said.

Having an updated plan is important for reasons beyond its utility, as it qualifies the town to apply for state grants, Hurley said.

The draft plan can be found here.

While much of the new plan is material carried over from the 2012 edition, there are new sections and improvements, such as up-to-date maps.

STUDY FINDINGS

The draft plan outlines strategy for economic development that extends the village center designation obtained from the state in 2013 to a larger neighborhood development area extending about a quarter-mile from the village center in all directions. That, Hurley said, would promote higher-density workforce housing in more price ranges — a pressing need identified in the 2016 Northshire Economic Development Strategy (NEDS) study.

The plan proposes waiving density requirements for housing in the commercial core when part of a mixed use project, or redevelopment of existing building stock, and reducing sewer allocation fees for such projects, in order to encourage such development and meet the town's land use goals.

Other goals incorporated from the NEDS study include working to develop a downtown nightlife scene in Manchester, attracting regional sports tournaments to town, encouraging the creation of light manufacturing jobs and supporting the development of hiking and biking trails.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

The plan also states that the town will establish a renewable energy source plan by next May in order to comply with state law. According to the draft, the renewable energy source plan "must identify critical resources to be protected from development but must allow reasonable area for renewable energy development." In the same section, the draft highlights protection of wetlands, forests, the Batten Kill and the Equinox Mountain ridge line as priorities for Manchester.

It was 12 years ago that residents geared up to fight a proposed wind turbine development on the Equinox Mountain ridge line, Hurley pointed out. Having an renewable energy plan would give the town "substantial deference" instead of "due consideration" by the state if such a development were to be proposed again, Hurley said.

The conservation commission will be working on that energy plan along with Jim Sullivan of the Bennington County Regional Council, Hurley said.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at 802-490-6000.

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