Lucille and Harold Rice said they found out about the hearing at the last minute. As they thumbed through the document, the Rices said they hadn’t had time to read the plan before the hearing. But planning commission chair Peter Brophy indicated there was no review of the plan on the evening’s agenda. “We’re here to listen, not to talk,” he said.
The commission has been working on the plan since efforts to pass a comprehensive zoning amendment broke down last year. When a critical selectboard hearing deadline was missed, the board asked planning commissioners to shift their attention to bringing a new plan to the table before the current town plan expires in September.
Commission member Karen Grinold said the planning commission’s process started with the current town plan. “We went through the (current) town plan and weeded out all of the stuff that was no longer pertinent,” she said. “We worked with the public and the Windham Regional Commission to establish updated goals. Basically, every part of the plan is a rewrite.”
One of the areas of the plan that has changed the most, Grinold said, is the section on economic development. Since 2007, economic development has become a major focus in the Deerfield Valley, and Wilmington, Whitingham, and Dover have formed the Tritown Economic Development Committee. Grinold said the Mullin Report, an economic development study and plan commissioned by the TEDC, was key to the commission’s economic development planning.
The plan calls for the development of broadband Internet and cell phone systems throughout the valley, support systems for businesses, and the development of industries that utilize local renewable resources and agricultural products. The plan also calls on the town to reduce the cost of business in Wilmington, “enhance” the job base, and work to attract and retain a younger population.
The plan’s section on land use, one of the sections that will have a direct impact on any future zoning, has also changed substantially. Gone is the controversial commercial planned development district, along with the recreation district. The commercial planned development district was intended to encourage clustered development and the preservation of open space using criteria similar to that of a planned unit development. Under the new plan, areas that were in the commercial planned development district are now a commercial district. The plan calls for the use of planned unit development and cluster development in the commercial district.
The recreation district, which was located in the northwest corner of the town and included Haystack Ski Area and Haystack Golf Course, has been redesignated as a residential district.
An expanded energy section sets a vision in which there’s less demand for energy in the town, through conservation and the development of alternative energy sources. The plan calls on the town to promote the use of wood as a heating fuel and a fuel for small-scale industrial operations. One of the recommendations is that the town propose zoning amendments that “provide for the siting of ” wind and solar systems.
While the plan appears supportive of small-scale home wind energy, selectboard member Meg Streeter noted that the document doesn’t address the issue of larger commercial wind facilities. She asked the commission to consider “putting in some language and definitions that would eliminate the possibility of having an industrial wind turbine development in Wilmington. When the Searsburg (expansion) project was proposed, enough people in Wilmington cared enough to have a meeting and raise money to fight it.”
Streeter said that other towns have addressed the issue in their town plans, and suggested that the planning commission could pluck appropriate language from their plans. “We would have more protection if it was in our town plan,” she said.
Brophy said the proposed plan addresses a number of issues that weren’t addressed thoroughly in previous plans, and the commission also deleted a number of things that were outdated. “One of the things the planning commission noticed is the change in the economy,” added zoning administrator Alice Herrick. “The tourist industry has changed. We used to have a lot of bus tours; people were visiting the Wilmington area in a different way. The change affects housing, transportation, traffic, and economic development.”
Matthews and Grinold said the plan was written with the commission’s zoning update in mind. Grinold said the commission was ready to pass the town plan on to the selectboard, and start working on zoning. “That’s something we’re excited about,” she said. “We’re looking at tackling that as soon as possible.”
The planning commission may make some changes and corrections to the plan before submitting it to the selectboard. Once in the selectboard’s hands, they’ll hold another public hearing on the plan. If there are no substantial changes, the selectboard can approve the plan.