Vermont Planners Association
Announces 2015 Planning Awards
Montpelier, VT: The Vermont Planners Association (VPA) is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2015 planning awards. Since 1992, the VPA has recognized outstanding achievement in Vermont community planning through its annual awards. The field of nominations was very competitive, with judging occurring by the New Hampshire Planners Association. According to Sarah Hadd, President of the Vermont Planners Association, “All of the recipients of this year’s awards are excellent examples of how Vermont citizens can work cooperatively to achieve great results for their communities.” The awards will be presented in May 29th at the organization’s Spring Workshop in St. Johnsbury at 12:30 at the Catamount Film & Arts Center.
Bob Buermann, of South Hero, Vermont, is recognized as the 2015 Citizen Planner of the Year, for his commitment to Grand Isle County. He is a tireless advocate for community service, energy conservation, public transportation, smart growth and regional planning. Buermann serves on a number of local and regional boards and is frequently asked to serve in leadership roles. Often he simply steps up to initiate and lead community efforts. Buermann is extremely effective in establishing and coordinating volunteer groups and achieving outcomes that have impacted local and statewide policy, as well as resulted in significant on-the-ground implementation. Catherine Dimitruk of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission has only high praise for Buermann’s contributions. “Bob has helped the Board of Commissioners understand the perspectives of his community of South Hero and Grand Isle County in general, applying his knowledge and experience gleaned from his private sector management to his role as a regional commissioner and Vice-Chair of the Board.”
Melissa Manka, Westford Planning Coordinator, is receiving the 2015 Mark Blucher Professional Planner of the Year Award. As Westford’s Planning Coordinator over the last ten years, she has overseen several zoning revisions and a major rewrite of the Westford Town Plan, plus other major milestones, including spearheading the Westford Town Center Revitalization project and Village Center Designation. Manka provides staff support to a number of the local boards, a particularly challenging job in a community that is transitioning from mostly rural to becoming a bedroom community for Burlington. She deals all on her own with all of the same issues, concerns, and concepts as do the larger Chittenden County communities. As Lee Krohn, of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission says, “She is a one-person dynamo, toiling quietly in the hills of Westford, helping to make her community a better place. She has helped their Planning Commission work through some complex issues; handles the Development Review Board as well; helps bring parties together to collaborate on areas of mutual concern; creates a community photo calendar every year, and sells it to raise funds for community purposes; helps gain grants; and even watered new trees on the Town Common. She has a style, manner, and demeanor that are perfect for her boards and for her community.”
The Development Review Board of South Burlington is being recognized as the 2015 Citizen Board of the Year. A municipal Development Review Board (DRB) is responsible for all types of development review, including subdivisions, site plans, conditional uses, variances, and appeals of the zoning administrator’s decisions. The South Burlington (DRB) is among the busiest, if not the busiest in the entire state and have processed an incredible 427 different applications, or over 80 per year. The sheer volume of applications does not, however, tell the true story of this DRB’s work. Many larger applications span multiple, productive, meetings, and each application includes individual quirks and needs. South Burlington’s Land Development Regulations include a total of fifty (50) different zoning districts and overlay zoning districts and Land Development Regulations exceeding 300 pages in length. Understanding and applying standards within these districts, all in a community of 18,000 residents, is a massive undertaking for a volunteer board. While the Board is quasi-judicial, with the power of decision, they always, as a matter of course, encourage applicants to work out differences towards successful outcomes within the confines for the regulations. Paul Conner, South Burlington’s Director of Planning and Zoning, finds the City’s DRB a pleasure to work with. “The City is fortunate to have a long tradition of extremely thoughtful members with a range of backgrounds and skills. This balance of different areas of expertise and perspectives has been one of the strengths of this Board over the years.”
Two of the state’s regional planning commissions are the recipients of VPA’s 2015 Plan of the Year Award for their development of the plan East Central Vermont: What We Want. The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee (TRORC) and the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commissions joined forces to create a plan that explicitly acknowledges challenges and aims to create a more sustainable region. The plan covers the 40-town area of the two regional planning commissions and it represents a consortium of dozens of organizations, towns, agencies and citizens that worked on developing it, as well as several formal organizational partners that lent valuable expertise. In order to help make it more accessible to the lay person, the plan leaves much of the background material out, relegating it to a series of white papers. There was a constant push to condense the plan, since thick plans are often not read. As Kevin Geiger of TRORC says, “this plan is a beautiful, readable, honest look at several planning issues and a set of actions, many associated with metrics, aimed at creating change that moves us toward a sustainable way of living.” The organization of the plan ensured that each vision had at least one goal, and that policies related to that goal, and then actions to those policies. The plan ends with a quote by Robert Liberty saying that, “a good plan that is not implemented is a waste of money and a fraud on the public.” Geiger says that all planners should take this to heart.
The award for 2015 Project of the Year Award is given to the Lamoille County Planning Commission and the Smugglers Notch Partners for their Barnes Camp Restoration and the Smugglers Notch Scenic Highway. The restoration of Barnes Camp, situated along Route 108 at the southern gateway of Smugglers’ Notch, represents the capstone achievement of a 20+ year planning effort to improve public facilities in the Smugglers Notch State Park and Scenic Highway. This project represents a true community effort, receiving financial support from a broad range of public and private partners, as well as in-kind donations by community members. Barnes Camp will serve as a visitor’s center for the Smugglers’ Notch Scenic Highway and State Park, and is managed through a public-private partnership between the Lamoille County Planning Commission, Green Mountain Club, Stowe Mountain Resort, and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, a good example of a partnership between State agencies, local businesses, and non-profits. The restoration is a showcase of innovative, green technology to meet today’s public and environmental needs, at the same time remaining true to the building’s historic appearance. As Seth Jensen, Interim Executive Director of the Lamoille County Planning Commission, succinctly puts it, “With the restoration complete, Barnes Camp will now serve as the key point of contact for one of the most unique scenic highways in Vermont, greatly enhancing public enjoyment of the Notch, while introducing and educating the visitors about the area’s numerous cultural, historic, and natural resources.”
For more information about the Vermont Planners Association Awards, you can visit their web site at http://www.vermontplanners.org/awards.html. You can also follow up on twitter @VT_Planning. The Vermont Planners Association is a statewide, non-profit, membership-based organization of professional and citizen planners, and other related professionals, dedicated to advancing the art and science of planning in Vermont. VPA supports the planning profession through outreach, professional development opportunities and encourages all members to maintain an open dialogue on contemporary planning issues. Special thanks is provided to the New Hampshire Planners Association for their help in judging the VPA awards this year.