MADISON — The Board of Selectmen voted to delay approving the town’s new 10-year strategic plan until December, in order to make amendments and get further public feedback.
The Monday decision came on the heels of an informational session held an hour before the board’s meeting, where the community expressed concerns about the proposed plan.
Sheryl Trent, founder of Colorado-based SBrand Solutions, has spent the past six months consulting Madison in developing the strategic plan, and said the focuses are financial and environmental sustainability, a high-performing government, modern and innovative infrastructure, a safe and healthy community, and thriving business and economy.
“Each key focus area will have multiple goals and smart objectives underneath that goal,” she said, recommending that the board adopt the plan. “It is a living document and you continue to talk about the plan. The plan needs to be adopted so the staff can actually start doing work.”
First Selectman Peggy Lyons, however, said that after hearing feedback from the public, another review of the document would be the best step.
“I think the way we positioned this tonight is we’re going to do another pass through, at least one more public hearing, and then we adopt it,” she said. “We can do another hour before our next meeting and then meet in mid-December to vote to adopt it.”
The next scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting is Nov. 27 at 7 p.m.
Selectman Jen Gordon said the perception of the text needs to be clearer to remove possible misconceptions by the public.
“I think we know what this says, but perception is reality, and the way the public is reading it, we want it to be perceived the proper way,” she said. “We want to put the right wording in the document.”
Selectman Bruce Wilson said people reading the plan felt it excluded topics they wanted addressed.
“I think we probably would do well to polish our talking points,” Wilson said. “… We’re going to bring our sensibilities to historic preservation to everything we do. We’re going to bring our sensibilities to resource sharing and regional sharing to everything that we do. We would be alarmed if we inadvertently prevented something from happening.”
“This is not meant to be an exhaustive document,” Selectman Scott Murphy added. “We heard you, we have your feedback, but this is also a prioritized document. You go forward and find the most high-priority items for the town. Not everybody’s priority personal agenda item is going to make the town’s top priority agenda. We have to find an appropriate way to say that.”
Gordon said context is important.
“Clearly people were leaping to conclusions,” she said. “We want to be careful of that. I don’t want people to be alarmed … and have a major concern that the document is going to totally change the landscape of the town.”
She said the public needs a deeper understanding of the intention behind the plan.
“This is a plan that you, as part of the community, created over the course of many months,” Trent said. “It’s not a master plan. It’s not super specific. It does not have extreme detail, because it’s intended to be big picture, policy level guidance.”
Another concern raised during the information session was ensuring that decisions made by the Planning and Zoning Commission aligned with the vision of the strategic plan — a concern shared by Lyons, particularly regarding business development in North Madison.
Resident Allan Katz said the strategic plan should reflect public involvement in such decisions and that a referendum should be held.
“Shouldn’t people in town have a right to know their property designation is going from an R1 to a commercial zone overnight?” he asked.
Lyons said the Planning and Zoning Commission will have to pay attention to the plan and that she would ensure public discussions are had regarding zoning.
“Preserving our small town, preserving our history, is all part of it,” she said. “If they’re going to be making zoning changes, they have to pay attention to all this. These are important goals and objectives. This is a bigger picture.”
When discussing economic development, she said she is referring to items like supporting home based businesses and agrotourism.
“We are not directing what the zoning is going to be, that’s a separate conversation,” Lyons said. “Going forward, any of those types of changes need to be done in a more town meeting-type of environment so the public can have feedback.”
Resident Alex Province said he was concerned that Planning and Zoning could pass something antithetical to the strategic plan before it gets approved.
“As we spend time working on this, which has been a slow process, P&Z can do something really quickly that can undermine all this,” he said, expressing concern about historic structures and the town’s colonial history.
“I would like to see preservation of historic structures,” he said.
Resident Jim Nordgren also asked how the strategic plan would address population projections.
“Madison’s population has been declining in the past eight years and is projected to decline for another two decades,” he said. “How does the strategic plan plan on dealing with that? We have to figure out how the town is going to respond to a declining population.”
Lyons said the town needs to focus on being multigenerational.
“How do we attract that?” she asked. “Part of the population issue is the aging population in town.”
Focusing on economic development in North Madison would help, she said, by using tourism, agrotourism and farming to attract people to town.
“It’s trying to be more comprehensive about what we see around town, home-based businesses, agritourism,” she said. “This isn’t a commercial development zoning discussion. It’s more of we want to be supportive of all kinds of businesses around town.”
Resident Frank Angelino suggested a statement about economic development should be included in the plan that explains the board’s intent.
“That statement should somehow get into the report,” he said. “It’s an important refinement about commercial development. It’ll put people’s minds at ease that this is a way to develop commercially right in the center of a residential district. This is a projection of what the town is going to look like. What we want to do is keep that direction of making it better.”