New town plan draft gets more tweaking
by Margo Avakian
Jun 13, 2013 | 2158 views | 0 0 comments | 195 195 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- After clearing up its last re-organization chores, selecting John Brimmer as vice chair and Phyllis Evanuk as secretary, the planning commission settled on the last revisions to the draft of the new town plan. Evanuk expects to email the final tweaks to Chris Campany of the Windham Regional Commission by Thursday or Friday of this week.

“Campany will be going over the (revised) town plan as he has time,” reported commissioner Steve Towne. Towne was responsible for finalizing the town’s contract with the WRC. Campany will return the draft with any changes he thinks necessary by July 1. “He doesn’t think his changes will be all that substantial,” Towne said.

Margaret Bartenhagen, who, as the town’s representative to the WRC, has been combing the plans of neighboring towns for features useful to Halifax, suggested that the commission adopt Marlboro’s practice of ongoing plan revision. The commission can appoint subcommittees to examine specific areas of the plan for improvements or adaptations to changed circumstance. Such revisions can be adopted at any time during the five-year life of the plan, subject to voter approval at town meetings. Making planning “an ongoing process” will not change the five-year deadline, but it would mean that much, if not most of the work would be done by the time the deadline arrives.

The commissioners liked the idea. Towne observed that the process would help “produce a better product, with more thorough treatment of individual subjects.”

“It would allow a more comprehensive approach to areas that are sensitive,” noted chair Linda Smith, and provide a process for real “strategic planning.” Smith cited education as one such area, calling it a potential “time bomb.” Board members all agreed that some contingency planning is essential in light of ever increasing education costs and the looming possibility of state-mandated consolidation of small schools. The new plan will include language indicating the town’s intent to adopt an ongoing planning process, as well as its intent to maintain the school “so long as it is deemed feasible” and to explore a “possible plan B.”

Economic development is another area the board feels will need to be seriously addressed in the next few years. Towne reported that he attended a planning forum held in Guilford that was largely concerned with that subject. Guilford, Towne said, has been using an online survey tool to collect opinions on “what aspects of economic development are important to residents,” among other topics. The service costs $300 per year, with no limit on the number of surveys. It can be used by “all town entities - the selectboard, the school board, the historical society, etc.,” Towne said. He suggested that residents’ tax bills might include a notice inviting residents and property owners to give their email addresses if they wish to participate in such surveys. “The email data base would allow polling on town plan updates,” Towne added.

The board, which has no budget of its own, agreed to present the suggestion to the selectboard, the entity which would have to approve such an expenditure.

Bartenhagen also suggested adding a paragraph indicating how terms such as “encourage, require, should or may” are to be interpreted. Members agreed that would be useful. Evanuk noted that it would also “be helpful when Act 250 needs to refer to the plan” as part of its process. That language, too, will be among the final revisions sent to Campany.

The board targeted a tentative public hearing date of Saturday, August 17, at 10 am. It is hoped that a Saturday morning date would make it easier for more working people to attend.

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