By Carol Casey
At the meeting of the Planning Commission on April 12, members and a public audience of more than two dozen residents gave their rapt attention to a presentation by Bill and Mary Dennis, the consultants hired to provide conceptual strategies and designs for a new look for the half mile corridor centered on the intersection of Shelburne Road, Bay Road and Executive Drive. Earlier in the week, the consultants, Dean Pierce, and others had met with property owners in this area and had held a public design workshop to garner ideas. In presenting the sketches, Bill Dennis stated “it’s the form, not the use” that’s important in defining the look of the area. For example, gas stations often considered unsightly can be designed with pumps in the rear or on the side so that the facade of the station presents a more attractive aspect. Similarly, parking lots can be improved by perhaps such a simple idea as planting trees between parking spaces.
Existing buildings need not be torn down, Dennis added. Instead, landscaping improvements, adding architectural design elements, erecting fences, and otherwise sprucing up the facades can achieve the new look. Back streets can be created behind existing buildings to allow further development and more connectivity.
Rather than thinking in terms of front yard setbacks, Bill Dennis advocated setting a “build to” line so that structures are located closer to the sidewalk to give the location a village feel, with open space between buildings and some staggering of the “build to” line to provide diversity.
Mary Dennis presented some designs for the area southeast of Executive Drive, suggesting adding small scale market gardens with little agricultural buildings, and cleaning up the wetlands and underbrush to create walking trails through the open space. These ideas would take advantage of the scenic views in this area, and farm style architecture could be appropriately used. One design showed a silo with Shelburne written on the side located on the southeast corner of Executive Drive and Shelburne Road that would provide an introduction to the town.
Some of these designs and sketched may be viewed at https://www.yousendit.com/download/M3BtQk16ayt6RThFSzhUQw
The Dennises noted that both property owners and residents were very receptive to these ideas and enthusiastic about creating a new look for Shelburne Road as a gateway to the town. Participants agreed that one of the major stumbling blocks is the fact that Shelburne Road is a state highway and subject to many federal regulations tied to government funding received. Collaboration with the State Transportation Agency will be crucial in moving forward. For example, Dennis advocated planting much larger shade trees in the Route 7 median, reducing the speed limit in certain areas, and creating “slip lanes” which would allow access to multiple businesses at a time off Shelburne Road. Such changes might not be permitted under existing law and regulation.
There appeared to be consensus that the next step should include another charette or public discussion and design sessions over the course of at least four days to agree upon the vision and write a Form-based Code. Participants were in agreement that having a Form-based Code would help developers by giving them images in advance of designs that would be approved, thus providing positive input before plans were actually drawn up.
Commission Chair Dick Elkins thanked Commission member Kate Lalley for getting this process started and said “let’s not lose the momentum that we have now” before taking the next steps.
Turning to their annual reorganization, Elkins stated that he would like to step down as Commission chair. Ron Bouchard nominated Brian Precourt, the current Vice Chair, to become Chair, and Kate Lalley to be Vice Chair. Dan Burks declined Toni Supple’s nomination of him to be Vice Chair, and Precourt and Lalley were elected unanimously by voice vote.
The Commission will next meet on Thursday, April 26 at the Municipal Center at 7 pm to address updating the Town Plan based upon the ideas and suggestions from the Selectboard, focusing especially on the vision statement, and incorporating ideas from the SDAT process into the plan. The Commission will then invite members of the Selectboard and the general public to a subsequent meeting to obtain further feedback and input.
At their meeting on April 26, the Commission will also review the final report from Bill and Mary Dennis which will include an illustrated binder containing text and images depicting potential applicability of Form-based Code along road frontages, and the package of zoning changes discussed earlier this year. A report from the Norwich University students working on a SDAT project may also be given at the meeting.