From survey to SWOT

DORSET - The Dorset Planning Commission met Tuesday night to continue to discuss the results of their Build-Out Survey. In late May, the planning commission sent out a survey to each homeowner in Dorset, asking 10 questions about how one saw the future of Dorset. The survey is intended to aid in the upcoming revision of the town plan in 2014.

Since the data has been collected, three meetings have been held to discuss the results and attempt to quantify the different viewpoints of Dorset residents.

For this meeting, Dorset resident Tom Ziegler created what he called S.W.O.T. points - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. These items were listed and handed out for the meeting, and included such strengths as the town green and Dorset's Historical District, but also such threats as an increase in housing costs and natural resource pressure.

He also created a presentation titled "Defining a Vision for a Resilient Future" that utilized the S.W.O.T. method as a way to organize the visions of the residents.

"There was a concern that when we used the term 'build-out' that we were pro-development," said Jim Henderson, member of the Bennington County Regional Commision who attended the meeting, "so we really are trying to make this more of a community visioning project." Ziegler's vision included a timeline that was similar to the one drawn up by Zoning Administrator Tyler Yandow. It had already started with the survey sent out earlier in May, moves on to the current S.W.O.T. analysis, and continues on to identifying areas of major concern, and ends with developing recommendations for the town plan.

"His presentation emphasized that it's easy to enact goals in an ideal world," said Yandow, "but some fail to take that vision to the implementation stage."

They are still planning to input the data, and opinions, that they are receiving into maps of Dorset to show the different ways the town can possibly grow, or even stay the same.

"In order to perform the survey with all the possible variations... it's helpful to identify all of the alternatives," said Sullivan. "We can look at all the results of the S.W.O.T.... because it has been quantified."

In the presentation, Ziegler included examples of how the process would run with different strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats; he also explained that the strengths and opportunities were internal forces within the town, and the weaknesses and threats were external forces, such as a strength of land use control and an opportunity of transportation services.

"We were lucky enough, with all the community participation we have seen, that [Ziegler] was able to break down all the survey info... and keep the ball rolling," said Town Manager Rob Gaiotti. "He has been an immense help. We have gathered a lot of valuable information so far, and we hope to get more of it in the coming meetings."

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday Sept. 3, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Dorset School. The meeting will be formatted differently than the past times they have covered this topic.

"We want to have a large community brainstorming session," Gaiotti said. "People will be able to sit... at one of five tables and do exercises with the S.W.O.T. analysis."

There will be one table for each category that the Planning Commission sees as the main categories: land use, economy, recreation, the arts, and services.

"The success of this project depends on community participation," said Yandow. "It's about group effort... it isn't about the planning commission or their agenda, it's about a group effort, and about the town. It's so important that the town attends this meeting."

Other items on the commission's agenda included an informal discussion with Danielle Epstien, owner of the Marble House at 1161 Dorset West Road.

The discussion centered around the potential future use of the building, which involved Epstien's idea of using the building for workshops for farming or art in a variety of mediums, possibly including a yoga studio.

She came to the board with her ideas because the building does not fit perfectly into the acceptable uses of the agricultural and rural residential district; however, Yandow explained that it could fit into other areas because of its low-impact uses.

Her informal presentation to the board allowed them to have an opportunity to think about what level of review they will need to use when making decisions about the property.


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