The Town of Fletcher, with a growing population of nearly 1,300 year-round residents, is located in southern Franklin County. The town’s proximity to Chittenden County has resulted in steady development pressure as families seek affordable housing and a rural setting convenient to nearby employment centers. Consequently, Fletcher has seen the conversion of its farmland to residential development. They have sought to manage these pressures , and preserve the community’s rural character, through a combination of thoughtful planning implemented by good zoning and innovative subdivision regulations.
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In the 1990s, the Town Planning Commission worked closely with the Northwest Regional Planning Commission to prepare a new Town Plan that established a set of goals aimed at maintaining the Town’s “rural character,” which the Plan defined in the following manner:
Fortunately, Fletcher retains much of what makes it an attractive place to live and work. As noted, one of the primary goals of local planning is to preserve Fletcher’s “rural character.” Rural character, as defined for this purpose, includes the following elements:
- Fletcher’s resource-based economy, which depends on the sustainable development and management of its land-based resources.
- Fletcher’s natural environment, including the protection and enhancement of its natural features and amenities.
- Fletcher’s cultural landscape, including the preservation of its historic sites and features, settlement patterns, and working landscapes.
- The rural lifestyle, enjoyed by Fletcher residents, which includes relative privacy, peace and solitude; living close to the land and nature; and a sense of community tied to shared responsibilities.
In this section important natural and cultural features found in Fletcher which contribute to its rural character and sense of place are noted, along with related goals, policies and objectives concerning their protection, preservation, or enhancement.
To the extent that land use affects the community’s rural character, the Planning Commission sought ways in which development could be managed to protect the four main elements that shape Fletcher’s rural character. Through the Town’s zoning bylaw, several zoning districts were established, including:
- Village districts encompassing historic Fletcher center and Binghamsville;
- A Forest District in which uses are limited to forestry, agriculture and outdoor recreation;
- A Shoreland District encompassing the shoreline of Metcalf and Halfmoon Ponds: and
- A Rural Residential/Agricultural and Conservation Districts
Because much of the development pressure was occurring in the Rural Residential/Agricultural and Conservation Districts, the Town supplemented the zoning bylaws with subdivision regulations that were drafted to ensure that subdivisions were designed to protect “primary conservation resources” (e.g., floodplain, slopes in excess of 25%) and “secondary conservation resources” (e.g., farmland, wildlife habitat).
The subdivision design process requires that subdividers follow three steps: (1) identify primary and secondary conservation resources and establish such areas as open space; (2) identify development areas in locations that avoid impacts on the open space; and (3) identify site improvements (e.g., roads, driveways, utility corridors) necessary to serve the development areas while minimizing the impact on open space. Within the Village Districts – where development is encouraged – the conservation design process is not required.
- Initially, there was outspoken resistance to the subdivision regulations. The Planning Commission, rather than fight the opposition, took a slow approach of working with landowners, making sure the public had a clear understanding of the regulations, and engaging concerned citizens in making necessary revisions. Their patience paid off with the adoption of the regulations.
- Typically, subdivisions are configured with the primary goal of identifying the most desirable (from a marketing standpoint) house sites on new lots, with resource protection being an afterthought. To ensure stronger protection of identified resources, designing the subdivision around the primary goal of identifying and protecting open space shifts the emphasis away from this conventional approach.
- Subdivision regulations are most effective when integrated with zoning bylaws. Although adopted as a separate bylaw, Fletcher prepared the subdivision regulations concurrently with the updated zoning. In some districts, single family dwellings on lots that were approved under the subdivision regulations may receive a zoning permit from the Zoning Administrator, while homes on lots that did not receive such approval are subject to conditional use review.