WHITEFIELD COMPREHENSIVE PLANNING COMMITTEE
Question and Answer Sheet (3/12/05)
Q. Why do we need a plan?
A. The population of the Town of Whitefield has doubled in the last 30 years. A rapid rate of growth is predicted to continue. Along with this growth changes, likely to include "urban sprawl," will occur. We can choose to just let it happen, or we can attempt to accommodate to changes in ways that benefit the Town and its citizens, and the condition of our resources. A comprehensive Plan can provide direction for the town as it grows and changes. Our survey, taken in 2003, indicated that people wish to conserve, to the extent possible, clean rivers, open pasture, hayfields, farmland and forested areas. With input from as many residents as possible, a Plan will provide a view of our Town and common goals, in short a blueprint for the future. (In addition, having a State-approved Comprehensive Plan in place may make our own ordinances more enforceable.)
Q. Will implementation of this plan restrict or reduce what I am able to do with my land?
A. No. The plan proposes no new restrictions on how owners may use their land.* There are local ordinances and regulations currently in place, such as minimum lot size, road frontage, shoreland zoning, and soils test requirements which at present restrict land use. In fact, the plan calls for relaxation of some restrictions For instance it recommends modifying the Town’s Subdivision Ordinance to permit smaller lot sizes on part of a parcel so long as the average density is consistent with the minimum lot size requirement. The purpose of this flexibility is to encourage the conservation of open space without inhibiting development. The Plan also suggests smaller lot sizes be permitted in village areas. *The plan does call for curb cut standards on new roads in the interest of public safety. If such a standards were adopted, it could in some cases, affect subdivision lay-out.
Q. Does this plan call for Zoning?
A. No, not in the traditional sense of zoning with legal restrictions. The plan does suggest that certain areas be designated as "preferred use areas." The Plan simply states that certain areas are preferable for high-impact commercial development and others for village-type development. The plan suggests that incentives such as tax relief for business and economic advantages to developers for residences be used to encourage certain types of development in certain areas. Protection of wildlife habitat might be aided by purchase or exchange of development rights in environmentally sensitive areas. The plan does not call for new legal restrictions beyond those currently in place, and compliance with proposed revisions offering alternatives would be voluntary.
Q. Is the Plan a mandate?
A. No. The plan is only a guide. Any proposals coming from the plan which require modification of current ordinances, Town expenditures, expansion of facilities, adoption of new standards, etc., will have to receive citizen comment and come before the Town for a vote. The Plan, if adopted, will be a strong expression that the citizens of Whitefield care about their community, its natural resources, and local governance. It says we want a role in deciding how, in the next decades, we would like to see when and where and how growth will occur, and that we want to leave our children with opportunities to enjoy those things which keep us here – for example, opportunities to enjoy the Sheepscot River, woods, fields, and unpolluted aquifers.
Q. Doesn't the plan put pressure on me to use or develop my land in a certain way?
A. There are already pressures for development, including the pressure to sell land for house lots to cover the tax burden caused by increasing demands for service, as people, accustomed to such services in more urban areas, move here. The Plan does not create pressures such as these. The plan suggests that there should be alternatives to requirements now in place. For instance, an owner/developer could choose to go by the old minimum lot size requirements or by a more flexible requirement meant to encourage open space conservation.
Q. Don't we need new or modified ordinances?
A. Yes. If the vision of the plan is to be realized and resources identified in the plan are to be protected, changes in our ordinances will be necessary. Some new ordinances intended for public safety may need to be proposed. Existing land use ordinances may have to be modified with more clear definitions so developers can better understand the requirements they are expected to meet. The Plan calls for more consistent enforcement of existing ordinances.
Q. What else does the Plan do?
A. The plan provides a framework for addressing the needs of a changing population and increased demands for public services such as maintenance of roads, public safety, opportunities for cultural and recreational activities. In addition to addressing environmental, public safety, and land use issues, the plan very thoroughly documents and comments on several other subjects of importance to the Town and its current and future residents: historical and archeological resources, recreation, capital improvements, transportation, housing, economic development, and taxation. As such the Plan can serve as a valuable reference and discussion document for town officials, citizens and service organizations.
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