Finding potential in Route 7 north – Shelburne needs you

By Kate Lalley, Planning Commission member

Everyone agrees on Shelburne’s wonderful assets: scenic beauty, prime location on Lake Champlain, historic charm, and superb cultural institutions. Most would also agree that much of this identity is not found on Route 7 north. The town’s largest commercial area generates a less satisfactory impression: placeless, uninviting and unloved, drive everywhere … Consider how this suddenly changes when you turn off Route 7 on Bay Road to take the “back way” to the village. The gorgeous views of Shelburne Bay, the quiet neighborhoods, and period character of the working village – this is the Shelburne we love and many tourist and visitors admire. I call this our town’s “cultural capital.”

It’s time we invested some of this capital in the Route 7 corridor. People make decisions about where to live, invest, vacation, spend money, and retire based on what communities look like. Bringing Route 7 on par with the more beloved (and valued) parts of Shelburne can lead to a setting for businesses the town desperately wants but has not been able to attract. Thanks to a grant from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission , the town is getting ready to pursue a higher standard for new development in the Route 7 corridor.

How does a town transform an under-performing strip into an appealing mixed-use district that attracts new businesses, generates interesting destinations, and combines transit based housing with walkable, mixed, and more sustainable development? You start with a community-based vision. This December Charlotte-based landscape architect, Jim Donovan, will lead a consultant team of design, planning, marketing, and traffic experts to work with town residents to create a vision to guide redevelopment on Route 7 from Webster Road to the S. Burlington line. The public design workshop, or “charrette,” is one of two key tools that will be used to identify and leverage the hidden potential that exists in the corridor. The other tool will be to develop a new zoning code known as a Form-Based Code (FBC).

The charrette will be a three-day event of fun and informal community meetings everyone will enjoy. To create a community-based vision for the Route 7 corridor, residents will be asked to vote on what they think new development should look like. Visual preferences for building types, “placemaking” elements like landscaping, outdoor dining, signage, how properties should connect, and how this fits in with parking for cars and bikes will be sought. Residents can also join “conversations” with team leaders on topics that impact quality of life in the Route 7 corridor: traffic movement and congestion, lack of recognizable Shelburne identity, impacts to life in surrounding neighborhoods, economic development challenges and opportunities. By considering the corridor from new vantages, we’ll start to see the area’s huge potential and why investing it with cultural capital will bring big results.

FBC is the type of zoning best suited to translate this vision into reality because it relies on pictures and diagrams (instead of pages of hard-to-understand text) to clearly illustrate rules and expected results. When all the players work from the same rulebook, construction becomes more cost-efficient, simpler to administer, and the community achieves good outcomes. Wouldn’t it be nice if our young people returned from college or that those who now live away from home could afford to live and work here?  Route 7 is the ideal location to create settings for work and play that attract youthful entrepreneurial talent and capital. Doing so will expand the town’s business tax base. By planning new development to allow living, working, and playing on the same property, locating buildings around existing transit, connecting sites to support easier access for pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, and requiring overall less paving and more green, we will use land more efficiently and sustainably. Doing so will increase the per acre value of all the land on Route 7 north.

Any town resident and all property owners in the corridor are invited to participate in this important project. There are many ways to become involved. Those interested in the “big picture” of how the entire corridor redevelops, consider joining the Steering Committee. For those more concerned with addressing a specific aspect of redevelopment, such as new ways to manage stormwater, getting facilities for pedestrians, biking and recreation, improving signage, wayfinding and overall identity, building more affordable and transit oriented housing, or how to attract creative capital and young entrepreneurs, start or join a Working. Interested residents or business owners should contact Town Planner Dean Pierce at dpierce@shelburnevt.org or call 985-5118. To find out more, attend the Steering Committee meeting in conjunction with the Planning Commission on Thursday, Nov. 14 at 7 pm in the Town Center.

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