To the Editor:

The Charlestown Town Council requested that the Chair of each commission submit a report summarizing the previous year’s projects and detailing the upcoming year’s activities. As Chair of the Planning Commission, this was my response for the period June 2020 to June 2021.

In the past 12 months the Planning Commission has held 26 meetings where it has worked on the following tasks.

Review of Development Proposals:

Three major residential subdivisions totaling 59 lots

Three minor residential subdivisions totaling 7 lots

One residential condominium development of 20 units

Two self-storage developments of approximately 460 units in total

Commercial developments containing a total of 7 new commercial buildings totaling 34,000 square feet of new commercial space

Planning:

Completion and adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan for Charlestown

Regulations and Zoning:

Revision and adoption of changes to the Subdivision and Land Development Regulations

Commencement of writing a new Conservation Design Ordinance and related regulations for inclusion in the Zoning Ordinance and the Subdivision and Land Development Regulations

Advisories:

Provision of an advisory to the Town Council regarding a proposed Zoning Map change

Provision of an advisory to the Town Council for an Open Space Acquisition

The tasks undertaken in each of these 26 meetings require many additional hours of research and preparation by members of the Planning Commission and Planning Department.

In the coming year we will continue to review some of the above applications for residential subdivision and commercial development as they advance from Master Plan to Preliminary Plan Review.

There will undoubtedly be new developments proposed, but we can’t predict in advance how many and what those will be because Charlestown no longer has a quota on the number of new residential units that can be approved in any one year. In the past, when we did have a quota on the number of new residential units that could be approved in any one year, the maximum number in any year was 60, and we never reached the quota. In the last 12 months we have reviewed 86 new lots or units. Charlestown has not seen this level of growth in over 20 years.

The coming year is likely to be even busier than this last one was. With the number of applications we have seen this past year, the Planning Commission and the Planning Department have been over extended. Meetings frequently go until 11 p.m., or even midnight, and the Commission’s workshop time has, of necessity, been increasingly devoted to reviewing applications. The Planning Department is also stretched thin to review applications and prepare materials for our meetings. We may reach a level of residential applications that will be impossible for the Planning Department and Planning Commission to review. Impossible or not, state law requires that we review and make decisions within a set number of days.

In addition, there is other important work, including pressing revisions to regulations and zoning. In the coming year, we will continue writing the Conservation Design Ordinance and propose other changes to the Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision and Land Development Regulations to bring these documents into compliance with the 2021 Comprehensive Plan and state law.

Ruth Platner

The writer is the current Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission

 

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