The village trustees will host two public hearings in the coming months seeking feedback on changes to the Essex Jct. Comprehensive plan, a wishlist of developmental goals that could influence growth here over the next eight years.

The 158-page document, updated every five years, seeks to guide local decisions on physical development or redevelopment of the community, outlining specific goals and their justifications. It also looks to update maps and data with current demographic information and codify planning work completed over the last five years.

The trustees’ first public hearing is Tuesday, July 23, starting at 6:30 p.m., with a second hearing August 13.

“We really pulled a lot of things together that have happened since the last time we have done the plan,” Essex Jct. community development director Robin Pierce told the trustees last week. Among the changes are the inclusion of finished work on the Design Five Corners study, and drafts or finalized plans covering housing, bicycles and pedestrians, parking and public transportation.

The planning commission also decided to include the Essex Community Enhanced Energy Plan, a new joint document between the town and village that details future energy-saving goals and how to get there,  within the comprehensive plan. Typically, addendums like these are not included within the plan itself, but Pierce said experience shows that it helps for outside entities to have all the relevant information in the same place.

Pierce said he and the planning commission, which voted last month to send the plan to the trustees, have referred to the new document as a “municipal plan lite,” since the bulk of major changes are focused on bringing the village into compliance with new state regulations.

“The idea of doing this is so that we have enough time when we overlap with the town’s municipal plan, so if the powers that be decide we want to merge them, it can happen,” Pierce said.

While the comprehensive plan notes that it’s best viewed as a guide, not a prescription, for growth, the document can ultimately lead to substantial changes in the way development forms in the village. The plan is used in state regulatory proceedings, such as Act 250 applications, and changes to it will be reflected in the next version of the land development code, Pierce said, a document he referred to as the “bible” by which the PC makes decisions on applications.

The comprehensive plan seeks to establish a baseline of Essex Jct. in 2019, noting that the village is a “largely developed community” with residential, commercial and industrial zoning.

But the plan also says some “underutilized properties” present opportunity for further redevelopment and reinvestment, creating a challenge of managing growth and encouraging reinvestment while protecting neighborhoods and maintaining the village’s character.

The tension has played out publicly in recent years, with developers, who say the only way to make their buildings financially possible is to build up, facing notable pushback from some of their neighbors, who argue their once-quaint village center has been overshadowed by an influx of too-tall housing complexes.

Referring to this previous discontent, village vice-president George Tyler said the time is now for those interested in weighing in. “If someone has a comment, they might want to come to one of these public hearings,” he said.

The PC held a 30-day public comment period prior to approving the draft plan May 23. It received comments from only three individuals not affiliated with the regional planning commission; one was town planner Darren Schibler, another was PC member Diane Clemens.

A draft of the plan and related documents can be found here