Community Planning Program

The Community Planning Program weaves regional initiatives, such as economic development, watershed protection, or transit planning, together with residents’ visions for the future to produce action plans and tools for use at the local level. Some of the services that North Country Council (NCC) offers are assistance with master plans, zoning ordinances, subdivision or site plan review regulations. Often the best first step is to call and request to have an NCC planner attend a future meeting of your planning board to discuss the needs and concerns of the community and identify next steps. There is no charge for this assistance or to have an NCC planner provide guidance and direction, examples, or review and comment on draft documents developed by the planning board. A contract is usually required to have NCC lead the project or develop the plan or regulations. Some of the more common community planning services are described below. If your community is seeking a qualified planning professional for a service not listed, please contact NCC for more information.

Master Plans

The community’s master plan is the policy document which drives land use regulations, capital budgets, and other municipal programs. Although not a regulatory document itself, at a minimum the municipality must have the vision and land use sections of the master plan in place as a basis for land use regulations and capital improvement programs. Other elements may include transportation, community facilities, economic development, natural resources, natural hazards, recreation, utilities and public services, cultural and historic resources, regional concerns, neighborhood plans, community design, housing and implementation. NCC assistance typically includes facilitation of the process, guidance and input at planning board (or master plan committee) meetings, assistance with the development of policies and recommendations, drafting maps and background narrative. The level of assistance varies depending on the planning board’s budget for the process and the ability of the committee members to devote time to the project outside of meetings.

Zoning Ordinances

A municipality’s zoning ordinance is the primary tool for implementing the master plan. (A valid master plan is a prerequisite for zoning). North Country Council’s (NCC) professional planning staff is available to help member communities with zoning ordinances whether the planning board is considering zoning for the first time, considering a comprehensive overhaul, or just a few minor revisions. Guidance and examples are always provided free to member communities  as well as review and comment on the draft language developed by the planning board. A contract is usually required to have North Country Council’s professional planning staff develop the draft language for review by the planning board. This contract can also include provisions for assistance with public participation, development of the required public hearing notices, development of the wording for the town meeting ballot, and creation of a zoning map. It is best to start work on zoning amendments in the spring to be ready for the following town meeting.

Subdivision Regulations

Planning boards should review their subdivision regulations periodically for needed updates, for example, master plan changes, best management practices (e.g. stormwater management), and updates to state requirements. For member communities, North Country Council (NCC) staff is available to provide a free review of subdivision regulations and provide feedback in these general areas, as well as to review and provide comment on regulations drafted by the planning board itself. NCC staff may also be retained to draft the subdivision regulation language for review by the planning board.

Site Plan Regulations

Communities with zoning can authorize the planning board to develop site plan regulations for multi-family and nonresidential development. Site plan regulations enable the board to have input into the layout of the buildings, parking and accesses, stormwater management, and screening from neighboring land uses.  Planning boards with site plan review regulations should review them periodically for master plan changes, best management practices (e.g. stormwater management), and updates to state requirements. For member communities, North Country Council (NCC) staff is available to provide a free review of site plan review regulations and provide feedback in these general areas, as well as to review and provide comment on regulations drafted by the planning board itself. NCC staff may also be retained to draft the site plan review regulation language for review by the planning board.

Other Ordinances

Circumstances arise where a municipality may seek assistance in developing special purpose regulations. Examples include zoning ordinance provisions addressing special land uses such as telecommunications towers, wind towers or outdoor furnaces; particular aspects of development such as lighting, noise, or signs; or development in special areas of the community such as aquifers, floodplains or ridge lines. As a free service to member communities, North Country Council (NCC) can meet with the planning board to discuss alternative approaches suitable for the community, follow up with guidance material and examples from other communities, and provide review and comment on language developed by the planning board or a subcommittee. NCC staff can also be retained to work with the planning board or a subcommittee to draft language for the board’s review, input and adoption.