The schedule includes a “first brainstorming session with members of the community,” tentatively set for the March 12, 2013 regular planning commission meeting. At that session, the board expects to present “a working draft of those areas we especially want the community at large to weigh in on.” Extra notice of the brainstorming session will be posted at least two weeks in advance. Suggestions and information gleaned from the community work session will be incorporated in the draft plan, which the board hopes to present for review in June.
The planning commission hopes to hold its public hearing on the plan at the July 9, 2013 meeting. The resulting final version of the plan will then be forwarded to the selectboard, which can then schedule its own public hearings in good time for inclusion in the warning for the 2014 Town Meeting.
Evanuk told the board that the state has, for the second year in a row, declined Halifax’s application for a planning grant. Local planning grants are intended to help defray expenses, including the cost of assistance from the regional planning commission. The commissioners, who have devoted time to consultations with the Windham Regional Commission and to grant preparation, and who were told that their chances of getting funding in this round were good, expressed considerable disgruntlement. Board member Linda Smith said a “pleasant but strongly worded letter” should be sent to the relevant state officials asking why the town’s application was turned down and “how they expect small towns to comply with their requirements” in the absence of funding assistance. “Why,” Smith asked, “should we continue to spend time and resources” applying for these grants?
Evanuk said that information on which towns were funded is not yet available. The possibility that the bulk of state funds allotted to local planning goes to larger municipalities was discussed. Board chair Howard Alboum wondered how strongly the WRC, which helps prepare the applications and administers the state grants, has advocated for local communities. “Are we being used?” Alboum asked, suggesting that towns may be drawn into the application process simply to fulfill regional commission job requirements.
The meeting took on a more positive tone when Smith presented a substantial collection of maps and statistical analyses, which she was able to obtain without cost to the town. The statistical breakdowns, based on the most recent census data, include demographic trends, comparisons with communities within three, five, and 10 miles of the town, and with national averages in a number of economic and social areas, including such categories as population, age, and housing trends.
The data show clearly how the presence or absence of infrastructure and services affects the town’s economic and social profile. Smith also discussed the ways companies considering whether to expand into an area use data like this to determine the likelihood of success.
The board members will review the information provided by Smith, who strongly encouraged them to contact her at any time with questions or requests for other sorts of information. “Don’t wait for the next meeting,” Smith urged. On her own wish list, Smith said, are the names of other towns with profiles similar to that of Halifax. Do those towns have plans that the board can compare with Halifax’s? If they have been able to initiate changes in, say, cell phone and broadband services, how have those changes altered economic profiles?
In general, Smith advocated strongly for an emphasis on “actionable items” in developing the new plan. She wants to create a document that will be a useful guide to the town’s future, not “just a paperweight.”
In other business, the board approved the written findings on its approval of the Sumner subdivision; agreed to draft a letter permitting a lot line correction on a previously approved subdivision; and asked zoning administrator Rick Gay to look into a possible permit violation.