Planning commission works to define village boundaries

SCOOTER MACMILLAN
Staff Reporter

The Charlotte Planning Commission did more work on the proposed changes to the East Charlotte Village District map, but still have more to do.

Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin started the conversation by saying that, in their last discussion, the commission concluded that “they would simplify and put together a proposed map for the village district boundaries and the village commercial district boundaries.”

The members are working on creating one map from the three maps put together by Clark Hinsdale, Charlie Pughe and Bill Stuono and including input received from people at the three previous meetings about East Charlotte Village plan changes.

Town Planner Daryl Benoit read two letters from Charlotte citizens who attended earlier meetings on the issue but couldn’t attend Monday night’s meeting.

Sarah Thompson wrote a letter opposing increasing the building density if the boundaries of the East Charlotte Village are extended in four directions – north and south on Spear Street and east and west on Hinesburg Road – from where these two streets intersect.

“Much work has to be done to determine how to make these roadways safe until they are safer and it doesn’t make sense to have more houses and people in those areas,” Thompson wrote.

In a letter to the commission, Stuono wrote that, although he couldn’t attend Monday night, he hoped the planning commission would take the concerns he’d expressed previously about safety, soils, runoff, wildlife, flooding, traffic and other issues “to heart.”

“I witnessed a panel truck with out-of-state plates barrel down Charlotte-Hinesburg Road and nearly not be able to stop at the stop sign,” Stuono wrote. “People drive very fast in their commute. I see no easy fix.”

Combining proposed maps

Joslin suggested looking at the village commercial district first because there seemed to be “a fair amount of continuity” among the maps.

To concerns that his drawing of the village commercial district contained areas that were conserved as open space, Pughe said he didn’t think it mattered what they were zoned because of the open space designation.

Planning commission member Dick Eastman said, he thought the proposed plan would be more understandable “if we had a definitive list of what the differences are between the commercial and the village district. And how you make the different calculations for the density and frontage and so forth. I mean you’ve got to go through the whole ordinance now and ferret that out.”

The commission discussed ways to adapt the plan so that it would help in the development of affordable housing.

Joslin pointed out that currently, most of the affordable housing is in the southeast of East Charlotte. Planning commission member Carrie Spear said that area “is under-utilized.”

The conversation turned to an examination of specific boundary lines for the proposed village districts and a discussion of whether the boundaries of the proposed plan should follow property parcel lines or natural features of the land.

Pughe said that his plan was to have a crossroads for a village with lower speed zones that had “traffic calming measures to slow people down.” He envisions a pathway and bike trails.

He said that filling in deep ditches on the side of the road are “an easy fix” to make the approach to the intersection of Spear Street and Hinesburg Road safer.

“I wasn’t necessarily thinking that we would tear down the houses in Sheehan Green and build a bunch of duplexes,” Pughe said. “I think we’re a long way from that happening in Charlotte.”

Encouraging homes closer to roads

Pughe also said that his intent wasn’t to build more housing in those areas, but if there is more housing, to focus it in those areas. He supports more housing along the roads and leaving the back of the property empty to preserve the woods.

Hinsdale said that having the buildings along the roads would be a way to encourage housing that was more affordable as opposed building homes that were far back on the property, requiring more distances for pipes, utility lines and other expenses.

Planning commission member Marty Illick said that currently, without changing any regulations, there could be around 60 homes built in East Charlotte in the vicinity of the intersection where a village district is proposed.

Part of the issue of developing affordable housing is that Pughe’s plan still relies on “transferable development rights, so you’ve still got to buy that density somewhere else,” Joslin said.

Transferable development rights (TDRs) require a comparable quantity of land to be conserved in perpetuity somewhere else. These rights can be sold to a developer or someone else who wants to increase density, hence they are “transferable.” TDRs are used to control land use and designate areas with a higher density of buildings.

Illick said that there is a way to develop half-acre lots and TDRs and make it affordable.

Although there are some examples of recently built homes, Joslin said, “There’s the potential, but we’re not seeing a lot of growth.”

Hinsdale said he sees the obstacles to growth very clearly.

“In our rural towns, we have two major factors that are clogging up the pipeline of home ownership,” he said. “The first is student loans that keep people from being able to afford a house at the time that maybe my generation was.”

He said the second cause is the lack of senior housing so older people hold on “to their big old colonial even if there are only one or two people left there.”

After much more conversation about what the boundaries of the village and the village commercial districts should be, Joslin proposed focusing more closely and going parcel by parcel at their next meeting on April 18.

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