To the editor: Public hearing Oct. 16 on updated Chester zoning

In February of 2022, the Town of Chester was awarded a Bylaw Modernization Grant from the Vermont Department of Housing & Community Development. Over the past 18 months, the Planning Commission has been working to modernize the six “Chester Center” zoning districts and will hold a public hearing on the culmination of their work at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16 at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Why “modernize” (or, as some put it, “reform”) zoning bylaws? From the beginning, zoning in
America has favored single-family dwellings on individual lots and, in more densely settled areas,
emphasized providing parking lots for cars.

These assumptions are now being questioned. A single-family house with a larger lot is increasingly out of reach for many in our society, and walkable neighborhoods reduce the reliance on cars, which are expensive to own.

Vermont’s state planning goal is to maintain historic settlement patterns of compact village
centers separated by rural countryside. Yet in subtle and inadvertent ways, Chester’s current bylaws
encourage the opposite by not allowing higher housing density in areas serviced by water and sewer
and close to the village center.

The Planning Commission has been assisted in this work by the Mount Ascutney Regional
Commission  and is guided by the reforms required in the recently passed Senate Bill S. 100 known as the “Housing Opportunities Made for Everyone” or HOME legislation as well as the
recommendations in “Enabling Better Places: A Zoning Guide for Vermont Neighborhoods” published
by the Vermont Agency of Commerce & Community Development.

The six “Chester Center” districts being modernized are

  • the Village Center District
  • the Village Green District,
  • a new Mixed Use District (which was the Residential-Commercial District),
  • a new General Business District (which was the Commercial-Industrial District),
  • the Stone Village District and
  • a new Neighborhood District (which was the R-20 and portions of the R-40 Districts).

Minimum lot sizes, setbacks and lot coverage requirements have been reduced. Parking requirements have been lowered. District boundaries more closely follow public water and sewer lines and likely areas of expansion. Building with up to four  dwelling units can now be approved administratively without a hearing before the Development Review Board.

Also, the proposed changes better define uses including art studio and/or gallery, club and bar/tavern/pub, and enable the approval of food trucks, food carts and food stands on private property. The Select Bboard controls food trucks within road rights-of-way and on town property.

Please attend the public Oct. 16 hearing  and let the Planning Commission know what you think it  got right or got wrong! It’s all about what’s best for Chester.

Hugh Quinn
Chester Planning Board

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