Vermont’s unique character is defined by many elements, including the contrast between the built and natural environments, the human scale of our downtowns, villages and neighborhoods, and our architectural heritage. As our communities grow, especially those that encourage smart growth involving high densities and compact settlement patterns, careful attention to building design is an important means of building public support and ensuring that new development enhances community character. An efficient design review process, with clear design standards, is an effective way to achieve that.
The most common type of design review district in Vermont encompasses downtowns, village centers and historic neighborhoods – areas where new building design should be harmonious with a well established building pattern. Some communities have chosen to designate areas defined by scenic landscapes, such as agricultural areas or wooded hillsides and ridgelines, where it is important that new development should settle into the landscape with minimal disturbance.
Regardless of the context or purpose of the district, common elements of design review include:
- a description of the district, in the form of “a report describing the particular planning and design problems of the proposed district and setting forth a design plan for the areas which shall include recommended planning and design criteria to guide future development” (§4414(1)(E);
- a review process, often involving an advisory committee to assist the review board with the review of applications and interpretation of the standards; and
- clear design standards, often supported by design guidelines that explain or illustrate the design concepts that the standards are intended to achieve.
Design review standards have been used to promote compatible architecture and adherence to good urban design principles in downtowns, village centers, established neighborhoods and hamlets. Design review has also been applied to scenic landscapes, including areas defined by the relationship of buildings to farm and forest land, and where scenic vistas have been identified as an important community resource.
Related Case Studies
Vermont Land Use Planning Implementation Manual: Design Review. This provides more detailed information on design review.
Vermont Planning Statutes. This link provides the legal framework for subdivision regulations as referenced in the Vermont Planning Statutes.