NEWFANE—The Planning Commission is in the midst of updating the Town Plan, and a recent community survey — and a grant from the state — are helping commissioners get there.
Planning Commission Chair Lynn Forrest explained the purpose of a town plan: “It sets the direction the residents want to go in.”
In this document, town officials have a set of expressed recommendations to guide them in such areas as land use, public services such as communications and transportation, environmental protection, economic development, and land conservation.
The town plan helps officials create zoning bylaws, if a town has them, Forrest explained. Newfane’s zoning bylaws were revised in 2015.
Because “it will change as our society changes,” she said, the state requires towns to update their town plans every five years.
Forrest gave an example of a topic not extensively covered in Newfane’s current Town Plan: solar energy. Since the last revision, in 2013, more solar arrays have popped up around town. Siting of these arrays is a new consideration that will likely get covered in the updated plan, Forrest said.
Another new entry into Newfane’s Town Plan will cover the recent Village Center Designations.
Official village status
Last year, the Planning Commission worked with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development to grant the villages of Newfane, South Newfane, and Williamsville official village status. This will help those residential and economic centers receive tax credits and grants for upgrades, code improvements, and ADA modifications to historic buildings.
Although the Planning Commission creates the town plan — with the help of a professional firm, such as the Windham Regional Commission — and the Selectboard approves it, the goal is to have the document reflect the will of the people, Forest explained.
In this current round of revisions, Planning Commissioners held a community forum and issued a survey.
More than 50 people attended the forum, which was held in November at the NewBrook Fire Station. “We put tables around the room, and each had information on the 12 chapters of the Town Plan, and a place where people could write their comments on each topic,” Forrest said.
This meeting also gave the commissioners — Forrest, Ken Estey, Bob McCandless, Angela Sanborn, and Mike Young — an opportunity to publicize the community survey, which was open to anyone who lives or works in, or is a regular visitor to, Newfane.
The survey, which ended in mid-January, was a success, Forrest said. 131 people took the survey, but she noted that some surveys represented an entire household.
The commissioners designed the survey to allow respondents to answer questions in their own words. Most of the multiple-choice questions were those asking for demographic data. “Because, otherwise, you limit what you’re going to hear,” Forrest said.
Services, roads, and recycling
Half of the respondents reported living in Newfane, but outside of the designated villages. Almost half are in the 55-64 age group.
When asked what services in Newfane need improving, the top three answers were “services,” “roads,” and, “recycling.”
“Public transportation,” and “speeding” topped the list of the town’s most pressing transportation and traffic problems, according to the survey.
The final question, which was multiple-choice, asked, “When it comes to growth and development, what do you feel are Newfane’s greatest challenges?” It allowed participants to choose up to three answers from a list of 12, and it gave an “other” option. The top three were about protecting the town’s character and scenery and providing adequate job opportunities.
Forrest noted that, as planners, such goals can cause a conflict: How do officials ensure nothing changes in a town’s appearance while also inviting economic opportunity?
There will be more opportunities for the Planning Commissioners to gather more input from townspeople and to get them involved.
“What I hope we can do with the data in the future is create committees for people to work on things they’re passionate about,” such as economic development and transportation, Forrest said. “They can bring possible solutions,” she added.
The current version of the Town Plan is good, Forrest said, but the update “needs more community input.”