Existing Road Network
Fairfax has a total of 84 miles of paved, gravel and dirt roads, and highways. (Excluding Class 4 and private roads). All roads having more than one dwelling have been measured, renamed, and marked in conjunction with the state-wide E911 emergency system, and 24 VSA, Chapter 61.
The Transportation Map shows the roads in Fairfax and their classification. Streams are also mapped, which are important for locating culverts.
The town currently participates in the Road Surface Management System (RSMS); a program to evaluate and monitor road surfaces.
Roads are classified according to their use and ability to carry traffic. The State has identified several roadways in Fairfax which are regionally important for their role as principal corridors for the flow of traffic around Franklin and Grand Isle Counties. These functional classifications are shown in Figure 1.
In addition to the functional classifications listed in Figure 1, the State's classification system separates Town Highways into four categories:
Note: Class 4 roads do not receive any state aid, and do not have to be maintained by the town except for culverts and bridges.
Many of the local roads provide scenic views, but there are no locally or state designated scenic roads in the town.The Selectboard established a road policy designed to protect the town from undue financial burdens associated with new developments. Such road policies provide several benefits:
It is recommended that the town keep its road policy in effect as a means of dealing with these issues.
There are no regional public transportation services in Fairfax, nor does the town provide any public transportation for its residents. Limited transportation services are provided to the elderly through various service providers. Commuter parking would greatly benefit the community and the transportation infrastructure. For safety reasons there is no longer commuter parking available in Fairfax; however, should user safety be adequately addressed, new proposals should be considered. The Northwest Regional Planning Commission and VTrans are both available to assist the town in any future considerations.
Amtrak is continuing passenger rail service out of the St. Albans depot. The Franklin Country Regional Airport in Swanton, and the Burlington International Airport in Burlington provide air service to the region.
In the past, it
is has been impractical at this time to offer public transportation services in this rural community due to relatively low ridership potential and a diffuse pattern of land use. Due to the steadily increasing population and the fact that more residents are commuting out of town for employment, the potential for some level of public transportation services may too be increasing. The Northwest Vermont Public Transit Network ('the NETWORK') is available to examine any possibilities for expansion of existing services; the community may be well served to consider communicating with the Network.
The transportation network has serious implications for Fairfax's future development. There are no large-scale potential commercial sites with easy access to the interstate or to railroads. Turnkey commercial sites with easy interstate access are available in three neighboring towns and the likelihood of a major employer locating in Fairfax is limited. Roadways within the town will likely continue to primarily serve residential properties in the next five years.
Several roads in Fairfax have been identified for improvement by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT) as Transportation Improvement Priorities (TIP).
The transportation network serving local traffic is adequate. The winter "clear road" policy followed by the selectmen has continually provided the safest roads possible. Constant communication between the road commissioner and the school transportation director has assured the safest possible transportation of students to and from school.
The Selectmen have adopted road policies that have contributed to maintaining a system of safe Town roads and sidewalks that serve residential properties without creating unnecessary burdens on the property tax rate.
A sampling of these policies include:
Items posted in the Town Office include:
would will continue to benefit from an improved system for identifying, prioritizing, and estimating the cost of needed repairs and improvements. Funding has been available within the past few years through the Northwest Regional Planning Commission for towns to implement a Road Surface Management System (RSMS). Using RSMS helps efficiently accomplish the tasks identified above with minimal cost to the Town. Implementing such a system would is helping greatly in capital budgeting for future road improvements. Funding should continue to be sought through the Regional Planning Commission for this important tool.
Major Commuter Flow
The majority of commuter trips originating in Fairfax are to employment destinations outside of Town, particularly to Chittenden County's major employment centers. Of the
1,147 1,807 daily work trips from Fairfax, 657 1,042 (58%) ended in Chittenden County. Only 48 64 daily trips originated in Chittenden County and ended in Fairfax. For those commuter trips that remained in Franklin County, 207 320 of 449 739 stayed within Fairfax. Commuter flow from Fairfax to St. Albans City was also significant, with 161 225 daily trips (U.S. Census, 2000).
In addition to commuter traffic, some roads in Town, particularly VT104, carry a significant volume of east-west truck traffic. While this trend is in keeping with the Vermont Agency of Transportation's management goals, it has been expressed as a disturbance to many Fairfax residents.
Encouraging a pattern of high density, mixed use development within the Town Center could help create more local job opportunities, lessening the demand on the existing road network to carry commuter traffic to destinations outside of Town. Promoting home occupations and local agriculture-related businesses would further assist in reversing current trends.
High density development of this kind would best be performed in conjunction with improvements to municipal infrastructure in the area of the existing village. These infrastructure improvements include water and sewer system improvements; continuing the extension of sidewalks within the village for safe, easy pedestrian travel; and the possible addition of new roads within the village which extend the current pattern of interconnected streets in a "neighborhood" street layout.
Dead end streets should be discouraged whenever possible, especially in the high density zone. Dead end streets are detrimental to the efficient flow of automobile travel by creating heavy traffic loading at relatively few connecting points along the street network. Interconnected "neighborhood" streets spread out traffic flow more evenly along the network, keeping traffic flow more diffuse and orderly.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel
The construction of a recreational path within the existing village area
has been is under active construction and future phases are under investigation by the Town Recreation Department Committee for several years. Potential construction of the path will hinge on the ability of the Town and affected landowners to reach agreements regarding routing of the path along private properties.
VT 104, VT 104A, and portions of Huntville Road and Tabor Hill Road have been identified by the State as combined automobile and bicycle routes in the 1994 regional transportation plan. Bicycle routes are classified in three categories:
Both VT 104 and VT 104A are classified as Class II routes, and Huntville/Tabor Hill Road as a Class III bicycle route.
The existing village area has been identified in the Long-Range Regional Transportation Plan as a Pedestrian Enhancement Area. Sidewalk improvements in this area, which have been going on for several years, should be continued.
Transportation Goals, Objectives, and Policies
The Town of Fairfax, though still a
largely significantly agrarian community grown from the roots of its early-American past, is in the midst of changes of considerable importance. The small town character of Fairfax, so prized by its residents, is not impervious to the outside forces which threaten it. The expansion of Chittenden County development and its potential encroachment on Fairfax in the form of exurban residential development, and in contrast, the desirability of the town for its beauty, peace, and quiet have created a dichotomy of direction: between the epitome of "Small Town USA" and the development pressures which threaten to bring the suburban trappings of "No Town USA" to its doorstep.
Between a rock and a hard place? Perhaps. However, by utilizing the pride, energy, and forethought of its residents, Fairfax is well positioned to take up the reins and move in a positive direction – exercising a community-wide vision to help control the type, pattern, and scale of future growth.
It seems inevitable that growth will occur. Growth has occurred and is likely to continue. It is not inevitable, however, that such growth be uncontrolled, unmanaged, or undesirable.
Results from the community survey, and citizen responses from two public hearings have established a clear vision for the Town in the next 5 to 10 years. Preventing strip development, encouraging a diverse, small-scale local economy (including agriculture and forestry enterprises), maintaining and enhancing a mixed use, high density town center, and preserving natural and cultural features which help define the rural character of Fairfax, have all been stated as future goals by the people of the Town.
, progressive planning, this community vision can be translated into actions which best serve the people, the culture, and the land itself.
Existing Land Use
The majority of land area in Fairfax continues to be in agricultural and forest uses. As can be seen on the Existing Land Use Map, the dominant land uses in the Town of Fairfax continue to be agricultural and forest lands (82%). In contrast, the existing village is the most significant concentration of residential and commercial uses in the town, although smaller settlements have emerged. In addition, other roads have experienced some undesirable residential strip development. The trend to residential acreage, fueled by the demand for homes by
Burlington Chittenden County and St. Albans area commuters, has been steady, and has occurred at the expense of pasture and forest lands. Land use trends in neighboring towns have paralleled those in Fairfax, with conversion from farm and forest uses to single family residential uses being common.
What follows is an inventory of existing land uses in Fairfax, using the most recent available data (1994). Although the data used are over 87% accurate, it should be noted that the map and inventory only suggest general land use patterns and trends, and some types of land use, particularly low density residential and commercial uses, may not be adequately accounted for.
Culturally, agriculture has historically defined the rural character of Fairfax. The continuation of this trend to the present day is evidenced by the amount of total land area still in agricultural production. Farming has long contributed significantly to the local and regional economy, and has created the "scenic infrastructure" which is attractive to visitors and residents alike.
Agricultural lands total 31.6% of the total land area of Fairfax, compared to 30.0% in the Franklin & Grand Isle region as a whole. County-wide statistics note a trend toward decreased farm size (
-0.4 -0.7%) , total cropland (-10.17%), and though increased numbers of farms ( -8.4 2%) between 1982 and 1992 and 1997. This is a shift from the same regional information between 1982 and 1992 has shifted respectively from (-0.4%) and (-8.4%). Land use trends in Fairfax follow a similar pattern. The majority of agricultural acreage in Fairfax (and the region) remains in dairy production, with hay, pasture, and corn being by far the dominant agricultural land use types.
Other forms of agriculture, including "niche farming", vegetable growing, and landscape nurseries are also present in Fairfax. While these agricultural land uses do not represent a significant acreage in comparison to hay, corn, and dairy farming, they still contribute to the local economy and culture of the area.
Over 54% of Fairfax is covered by forest. Approximately 40% of all forest lands are in mixed broadleaf and conifer forests. Another 33% are coniferous, with the balance consisting of scattered stands of broadleaf forests. The potential for forest-related industry is favorable, with large contiguous tracts of forest throughout most areas of Town. However, a diversity in land ownership patterns moderates the current potential for large scale forest products industry. Alternatively, Fairfax's forests may be well-suited for use as small woodlots, low impact recreation, as well as some limited opportunities for larger scale forest industries.
Current Use Program
The state, in an effort to encourage conservation and sound management of farm and forest lands, instituted the current use program in which enrolled parcels are taxed according to the use rather than fair market value. Through this program, the state reimburses municipalities for the balance in tax revenue, negating any fiscal municipal impacts for conserving the town's undeveloped natural resource lands.
Currently, 7,095 acres of agricultural land and 3,982 acres of forest land, comprised of 87 parcels are enrolled in the program; 44% of the total land acreage in Fairfax. As a whole, enrolled property owners currently experience an $8,061,900 (43.6%) reduction in the listed value of their property.
The majority of Notable residential land use is concentrated within the existing village area, where water and sewer infrastructure
are available exists. More recent trends (within the past few decades) have leaned toward lower density development scattered over a larger area, often far from services, and along major roadways. This trend is disturbing in its implications. Strip development, condemned by the residents of Fairfax in public hearings and community surveys, is often the product of such development patterns.
Pressures from Chittenden County to increase low density residential development have come in the wake of broader
national trends toward suburban "bedroom communities" for commuters with jobs in larger employment centers. Balancing the rights of individual landowners with aesthetic and cultural considerations will find its most challenging application in these low density residential areas. Creative approaches, including encouraging the clustering of residences to prevent strip development, and flexible zoning which allows for the most sensitive development of building sites with respect to the assimilative and aesthetic qualities of the land should be aggressively practiced. Toward this end, camps and seasonal homes should be subject to all conditions of road access and engineered septic designs applied to year-round dwellings.
The majority of commercial uses in the Town are concentrated within the existing village, and across the Lamoille River
along near the intersection of Rte 104 and Rte 128. Most commercial development in Fairfax is service-oriented, including restaurants, shops, gas stations and convenience stores. Centrally located, small-scale service-oriented commercial development will likely be the trend in the future.
Current Land Use Regulations: Zoning Districts
Fairfax's current zoning bylaw divides the Town into
eight seven land use districts:
A comprehensive assessment of the current zoning bylaw, and subsequent changes, are needed to better prepare the Town for adequately managing future development. In many cases, current regulations do not provide adequate means to achieve the stated objective. While many district objectives may remain similar, major provisional changes are needed which better serve those objectives and their spirit of intent.
A comprehensive rewrite of the Fairfax zoning bylaws was completed in 2000 to implement the 1998 municipal plan. The goal of this rewrite was to encourage Fairfax to grow and develop in a manner and intensity that reflects its traditional land use patterns. Growth Center and Mixed use districts were added to encourage a mix of uses in the growth areas, especially where infrastructure exists. Regulations were modified in the rural and agricultural districts to encourage clustering and conserve resources. Another goal of the rewrite was to modernize the bylaws to reflect current state law, and current planning practices. After an interim trial period, permanent subdivision regulations were also adopted to enable the town to adequately manage future growth. These regulations were again amended in 2002 to modify the density of uses allowed in the growth center and to make technical corrections. The zoning bylaws and subdivision regulations should be reviewed and amended if necessary to ensure that they reflect the objectives and goals of this plan.
Land Use Limitations and Opportunities
Wise land use planning should entail an assessment of the physical factors of a given piece of land, and its resultant capability to support various land uses. Toward that end, an analysis of land suitability was conducted using GIS. The analysis utilized an "overlay" technique, in which several "layers" of information are combined and subsequently aggregated into a single composite data layer. Each data layer (e.g. wetlands or steep slopes) was assigned a value corresponding to its limitation severity, relative to the other layers. These values were summed in the resulting composite layer, providing an "index of severity" by which a piece of land's capabilities can be evaluated. Overlay techniques such as the one described above are important planning tools, allowing for the evaluation of areas based on physical characteristics rather than arbitrary or subjective means.
The results of the analysis were not directly incorporated into this plan, but were used as a general guideline for developing proposed land use designations, in concert with an assessment of existing land use patterns, current zoning designations, and evaluation of citizen input from the community survey and public hearings.
Proposed Land Use
All of the above considerations have been integrated in the planning process to define the proposed land use for Fairfax's future. The results of this process are intended to respect the traditional land use patterns and activities which have defined the Town, while being attentive to the physical capabilities of the landscape, the desires of the citizenry, and the need for proactive management of the scale and pattern of future growth. Proposed land use designations have been divided into the following categories, as shown on the Proposed Land Use Map:
A description of each category and its criteria are provided below:
Flood Hazard/Wetland Zone
This designation is intended to protect floodplain and wetland areas from development, due to inherent risks to life and property, as well as the potential for riparian and riverine habitat disturbance and surface water degradation as a result of development. This includes all frequently flooded soils in Fairfax, as determined by the Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Survey of Franklin County. Wetlands included in this zone are Class I and Class II wetlands appearing on National Wetlands Inventory maps. It is recommended that no structures of any kind be allowed in the Flood Hazard/Wetland Zone.
Areas within 500 feet of Silver Lake and the St. Albans Reservoir encompass the Shoreland Zone. Management provisions regarding development in shoreland areas should include adequate building setbacks from shorelines, maintenance of vegetative buffers, and the consideration of larger lot sizes than are required in the existing shoreland zone.
Agricultural Resource Lands
The importance of Agriculture to the local culture and economy has been stated previously. Consequently, provisions should be made to encourage the long term viability of agricultural uses into the future by providing restrictions on the potential encroachment of non-agricultural forms of development. The Agricultural Zone as shown on the Proposed Land Use Map includes all lands currently in agricultural production.
Land use and soil analyses of the Northwest Region have shown that productive agricultural lands coincide consistently with areas in which the underlying soil is conducive to farming. In essence, historically the region's farmers have found the best agricultural soils over time, and have remained farming those lands ever since.
proposed Agricultural Zone respects that knowledge by recommending that all non-agricultural uses require Planning Commission approval before construction. The proposed This zone does not represent a prohibition on non-agricultural development, but attempts to protect agricultural resources by ensuring that non-agricultural development occurs at appropriate densities, configurations, and site locations. By promoting dialogue between land owners and planning officials, landowner knowledge of the site can be integrated within the framework of overall community goals.
Forest Resource Lands
Contiguous forested tracts of 25 acres or greater, which exist on soils having high forestry productivity potential are included in the proposed Forest Resource Lands. The intention of this designation is to encourage viable forest practices within the Town, and to protect these areas from incompatible forms of development.
Recommended allowable uses in Forest Resource Lands include silvicultural practices such as timber production and wood harvesting. Low density residential development may be appropriate in some instances when such development does not encroach upon the interior of the forest, or where development results in opportunities for intact preservation of forest resources through single or common ownership (i.e. cluster development around the forest perimeter with common or single ownership of the forest interior).
The Conservation District includes areas generally not physically suited for development, or which should be protected for their inherent value as significant wildlife habitat, or as buffer zones to prevent public water supply contamination. These areas include deer wintering areas; locations of rare, threatened, or endangered species or significant natural communities; locations of subsurface sand and gravel resources; and source protection areas for public drinking water supplies.
The geographic areas of some features included in the Conservation District may overlap. It is recommended that potential development in these areas be reviewed with respect to the number and severity of constraints (i.e. a deer wintering yard that coincides with the location of an endangered species) should be regulated more stringently than areas where environmental limitations are fewer or less severe (i.e. the location of subsurface sand and gravel deposits).
Recreation lands are those areas (owned by the Town) which have been set aside for future development as sites for public recreation. Potential construction in these areas will be limited to necessary public facilities associated with these recreation areas. With this exception, Recreational Lands will essentially remain in their present condition as forested areas and open land for public recreation.
Growth Center & Village
In keeping with Vermont tradition, the people of Fairfax have expressed a strong desire for the
majority higher densities of future growth to occur in designated growth areas, with the remaining land being kept in low density uses such as agriculture, open space, and forestry, though not changing applicable zoning provisions. In pursuit of this desire, a high density, mixed use growth center has been defined in the environs of the existing village (See Proposed Land Use Map). This growth area is intended to accept the majority of future growth in the Town, and will include a mixture of residential, multi-family, and commercial land uses on smaller building areas than are allowed in other parts of town. In short, the growth center represents "Downtown Fairfax", with the typical amenities which downtowns have traditionally offered: pedestrian friendly streets, "neighborhood" living, an integrated street network, shops, government services, schools, parks, and playgrounds.
The growth center concept is the engine by which the remainder of Fairfax's future land use policy is driven. The designation (and enabling
even celebration) of high density growth in certain areas begs a contrast in land use outside its borders. The allowance of high density growth in a relatively small area must be complimented by a significant reduction in density in other areas of town to ensure that the town is not developed to even higher net densities than previously allowed. This symbiotic relationship between high and low density growth, helps channel growth into areas best suited to absorb it, while better serving the capabilities of surrounding land through decreased human impact.
In addition, the contrast between low and high density land uses helps create an "edge" or visual gateway to the core of the community, a welcome alternative to the strip development and automobile-oriented entry corridors which have stifled the underlying character of so many communities.
If the growth center is the engine that drives land use policy, then the availability and quality of municipal services and infrastructure is the fuel. The provision of efficient municipal water distribution and wastewater treatment systems is of paramount importance for higher density development to be adequately absorbed by the land. In this regard, Town policies for expansion and improvement of these systems is the keystone of a successful future. Funding for improvements outlined in the Facilities and Services Section of this plan must be tenaciously pursued.
The Growth Center is also recognized as the 'village'. The State of Vermont offers a voluntary "Village Center Designation" program to municipalities. Although still under development, the benefits to any subsequent designation include eligibility for tax credits and priority consideration from other state programs. Seeking this or any other designation should be evaluated and considered to further planning efforts.
Future Growth Expansion Area
In addition to defining a growth center, a "Future Expansion Area" has been designated, and is shown on the Proposed Land Use Map. This area was defined with a longer view in mind. Growth, concentrated in the 370 acre growth center first, is anticipated to expand eventually to this 222 acre expansion zone. While growth is not anticipated to "overflow" into this area during the life of this plan, its designation and inclusion in this plan ensures that incompatible land uses are kept from this area. Further, a watchful eye may be kept on this area when considering long range planning efforts and Capital budgeting.
The boundaries of Fairfax's growth center have been recognized by the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, and have been incorporated into the Regional Plan as a Sub-regional Growth Center.
Mixed Use District
Low Density Residential
Areas not included in the above zones are recommended for low density residential use. Clustering of building lots and Planned Residential Developments are recommended in these areas where residential development does occur. Zoning amendments should reflect the discouragement of linear strip residential development in these areas.
Future land use in Fairfax should maintain a low net density when evaluated at the Town level. However, in the interest of protecting rural character, sense of community, and the landscape, a diverse, responsive planning approach should be favored over wholesale dimensional prescriptive standards. Different problems require different solutions.
Higher density residential and commercial development will be concentrated in the Town's growth center.
Conversely, net density of surrounding areas should be lower than at present, helping to perpetuate Vermont's traditional settlement pattern of concentrated villages surrounded by open countryside. The transition between the two should be notable.
Future growth should stem from the vision of the community, translated into action through the Town Plan, and exercised through a dialogue between the citizens and their local government. In contrast, piecemeal planning has shown through sometimes painful experience the consequences of the lack of such vision, action and cooperation. Trying to plan for growth after it has already grown out of control has "put the cart before the horse" in many communities. As the new millenium
approaches commences, the Town of Fairfax has the opportunity to show that with determination and aggressive pursuit, the horse may, in turn, catch up.
Land Use Goals, Objectives, and Policies: