Walk and Talk series wraps up to revise town's zoning and development uses

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MANCHESTER >> The current zoning maps in town are under revision after a series of open forums through "walk and talk" tours lead by a hired consultant and the town planner.

On Wednesday, Consultant Brandy Saxton of PlaceSense in Windsor, noted several locations downtown including single residential districts, Depot Street corridor overlay district, Manchester Center corridor overlay district, Main Street south corridor overlay district, commercial district and the general residential district.

The walk and talk was the last of four planned. About 20 folks traveled from the Manchester Community Library down to Memorial Avenue to Bonnet Street, Wyman Lane, up Depot Street and back around to the library. "This is one thought I've had. I've been watching a year and a half or more on the planning commission on all the issues we bat around there seems to be a sense of a large percentage of Manchester that doesn't want to see things change and the commercial core and kind of like the way things are," Michael Todd, Planning Commission member said. "Then there's another group that, I'm going to use the open flag example, 'Why can't we have open flags on our businesses.' And I'm wondering, if there's not an opportunity, as we go through this change, to somewhere, implement an arts district."

There was a main focus on parking accessibility, incorporating residential housing into commercial areas and evaluating the uses of existing properties.

"Parking actually drives a lot of the decisions about where buildings can be put. Making sure we're doing what we can to make it functional and make the most efficient use of the land," Saxton said. "You can see how efficiently the parking is being used today."

While standing in Langway Chevrolet, Saxton questioned the consumptive uses in the downtown core area, its intensity, and what should be there versus north or south of the center.

After the tour, community members posed the idea of more parking spaces, in which Saxton suggested the possibility of establishing a municipal parking system. She added that she helped redevelop downtown Brattleboro.

"It is a limiting factor. They need to get special permissions. There is some flexibility in the overlay districts for residential and waiving the parking requirements for that," she said. "That is something that the downtown districts zoning would need to take into consideration and that's a situation in most developed downtown areas around Vermont."

At the final walk and talk on Monday, the tour started at the town hall and looked at areas off Route 7A, north of Manchester center. The first stop was on the outskirts of land near Riley Rink at Hunter Park, followed by the William E. Dailey Industrial Park and then a vacant plot of land to the left of Casablanca Motel that runs behind the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Northshire Campus.

Talk revolved around the potential for residential development and to incorporate more industry into the industrial park, as there is already small businesses utilizing the space, such as Small Batch Granola.

"As we look at the zoning, is this the sort of area where it's appropriate for housing to develop and think about things like proximity to services and natural and physical constraints of the land," Saxton said. "Proximity to schools and parks and town facilities, which is obviously good in this area. There are other factors as well."

"No sewer or water line," Janet Hurley, town planner, said.

Transient commercial overlay is to the north, south, and east of the Manchester Town Hall.

Riley Rink hosts sports, events, exhibitions and provides athletic, cultural and social programming for children, teens, adults and families, according to its site.

In a field just northeast of the rink, that was once home to events, is up for debate as to whether it should be used for residential development or agriculture. Some community members argued it could be used for events, but others questioned the monetary turnover and poor rain drainage. It can be accessed by Pig Pen Road.

"This is a sort of land that has that potential to be agriculture land, but also because of its location, could be residential as well. So, those are some of the policy questions that the planning commission will be thinking about as well," Saxton said. "Where to target the ag-protection pieces and the encouraging of housing."

This series was a result of an outdated town plan that was written decades ago. The process is made possible by a $14,000 state grant obtained by the state's Agency of Commerce and Community Development. There was a kick-off meeting at the end of April that invited residents to participate in various exercises in developing a new town and viewing pictures of development seen as either appropriate or inappropriate. A draft report is expected to be produced by next May.


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