The Town of Warren, located in the southern portion of the Mad River Valley, is home to Sugarbush Ski Resort. According to the U.S. Census, the Town’s population was 1,681 2000, which reflects a 43% increase since 1990. Despite nearly 40 years of steady growth Warren remains a small community of 1,680 residents with a strong sense of place. This is in part due to a creative local planning program that has placed a high value on maintaining the Town’s rural character.
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During the 1970’s, Warren underwent a building boom, as nearly 1,000 new homes were built. Most of these new homes were condominium units located at the base of Lincoln Peak in and around Sugarbush Village, although home construction was also occurring on subdivided farm land far from the ski resort. Local planners struggled with managing these development pressures, adopting the Town’s first zoning regulations in the mid-1970s.
By the early 1980s it became clear that the conventional zoning adopted by the Town several years earlier was not adequate to address the Town’s goal of protecting farmland. Using recent ortho-photo maps, the Planning Commission inventoried land then in agricultural production, including pastureland, and drew a boundary around it. Encompassing approximately 1,800 acres (approximately 7% of the Town), the “Meadowland Overlay District” was designed to prevent development on farmland.
Initially, the Meadowland District was adopted as an interim measure, with an automatic sunset provision after five years. In 1989 – just before the provision was scheduled to expire – Town residents voted overwhelmingly to make the provision a permanent part of the zoning bylaws.
The Town again examined the Meadowland Overlay District when its zoning and subdivision regulations were overhauled, and combined into a single set of regulations, in 2001. A clear majority of the community again voted to adopt the regulations, which were updated to include graphic illustrations to better communicate district standards.
While one of the goals of the Meadowland District is to maintain the Town’s rural landscape, most local officials involved in creating the regulation cite the importance of protecting viable farmland for future generations. Today, nearly all of the farmland included in the original Meadowland District remains undeveloped and in some form of agricultural use.
- Agricultural land is a finite resource, and protecting it for future generations is clearly in the public interest.
- Municipalities need to continue to monitor the effectiveness of their planning tools and regulations, and not be averse to trying new things when the old regulations are not achieving the community’s goals.
- Drawing clear lines on a map – and making those lines meaningful with zoning standards that are clear and unambiguous – is necessary if zoning bylaws are to be effective.
- Adopting a far-reaching regulation on an interim basis can be a way of helping local residents and landowners get familiar with it before making it permanent.