The Town of Manchester, with an approximate year-round population of 4,345, is located in north-central Bennington County with easy access to Route 7. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Equinox and home to Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln’s summer estate, the area is a popular destination for a variety of outdoor recreation activities. The growth of retail outlets has also drawn people to the town, and there has been a strong market for second homes for many years. Manchester’s planning efforts have focused on integrating new development into the community in a manner that does not diminish its small-town character.
Tools you can use
The Town of Manchester has had a design review process since 1987 when a design review district was established. New development, and exterior changes to existing buildings, within that district was subject to local review in accordance with adopted architectural and site design standards. This process was often contentious, however, because the standards lacked clarity and no examples were provided to illustrate the design goals that the standards were intended to achieve.
To improve the design review process, the Town decided to move away from a “command and control” to a more collaborative approach to promoting good design. With the help of a State Planning Grant and two consulting firms, the Planning Commission developed a design manual that clarifies their goals and asks the community to help them achieve them.
The design manual is useful and readable and provides clear graphic illustrations that convey the Planning Commission’s design goals. Those goals promote the ideal that buildings are community assets – assets that should stand the test of time. The planners want new development to contribute to the sense that Manchester is cared for, and for new buildings to be a source of local pride. They did not want to “mimic” history, but instead, ensure that new development or redevelopment projects complement the community’s heritage.
Design Guidelines for Manchester’s Commercial and Historic Districts places design considerations at the front end of the project review process. How a project addresses such diverse elements such as sign placement, lighting, parking, ensuring a pedestrian focus, etc., are among the first topics considered by the municipal review board. This process highlights the importance of patterns of symmetry, form, and other important design details. At an open forum with architects and sign makers, participants noted that this new manual has helped elevate sign making to an art. Since the new manual has been developed, there has been little controversy as potential developers understand the community’s design goals.
- Begin by clarifying your goals before changing the process or regulations. Defining the goal will help ensure that you have the right tool for your community. Do not hesitate to develop a new process or regulation to replace one that is not working as well as you would like.
- Understand that design is about more than the color of a building. It is about the look and feel of the building, and how it relates to neighboring structures, the street, and the surrounding area.
- Develop a manual that is general enough so it does not require frequent updates, but specific enough to provide clear guidelines.
- Use drawings and illustrations from buildings in your community.
- Communicate with potential developers and applicants to articulate your expectations ahead of time.
Design is more than size
Manchester conducted a community survey in which they asked individuals to name their favorite buildings. The top two were the Factory Point Bank and the Northshire Bookstore. Both of these are larger than the current 3,000 square foot cap. This helped highlight that it is not just size that is important, but also design and that there is more to design than size.