Randall Street neighborhood

The Randall Street neighborhood is an example of what Waterbury would like to preserve.

Picturesque barns, old churches and late 19th-century thoroughfares are synonymous with Vermont towns and countryside.

Waterbury is a relatively urban Vermont town, with large companies like Green Mountain Coffee and Darn Tough moving in and out and the downtown restaurants bustling.

But that doesn’t mean it has to lose its Vermont character. The Waterbury Planning Commission is looking to preserve the community’s aesthetic and cultural heritage through zoning bylaws that will control changes in Waterbury's historic architecture.

A public hearing on the proposals will be held Monday, Feb. 10, at 7:15 p.m. at the Waterbury municipal offices.

The proposal drawn up by Steve Lotspeich, community planner, would affect buildings in the five historic districts in Waterbury: Waterbury Village, the Mill Village, Colbyville, Waterbury Center, Waterbury Center-Village Park and Lyon Farm.

Alteration, demolition, or construction of a building in these districts would subject to review by the development review board, with historic appearance in mind.

About 50 buildings in downtown Waterbury are already subject to similar laws; this overlay would expand that jurisdiction to over 450 buildings, Lotspeich said.

The goal is to preserve Waterbury's historic appearance, avoid demolishing historic buildings, and — if demolition is the only option — ensure new structures have a style in line with its neighbors.

Demolitions were a big driver behind the amendments.

“Some concerns have come up over the last several years,” Lotspeich said, citing a few building demolitions, including a multifamily home on Stowe Street, a carriage barn on Route 100, and a Sears Roebuck kit home on South Main Street that was damaged in Tropical Storm Irene. At the turn of the 20th century, Sears Roebuck sold homes ready to build — with designs and cut lumber — and this home was likely built in the 1920s.

“There was a lot of concern with a loss of that historic resource,” Lotspeich said.

To demolish a historic building, the owner will have to prove to the review board the structure is either a threat to occupants’ health or the owner's financial well-being, and it's economically unfeasible to restore it.

“Sometimes buildings are in terrible condition,” Lotspeich said. “Sometimes historic structures have to be replaced.”

A new structure in the historic districts would need review board approval of its design — down to its windows, doors, roof pitch and trim — to ensure its style and size is in line with the surrounding buildings.

“We're blessed with a wide variety of historic architecture in Waterbury,” Lotspeich said. “The idea is that the general character maintains that historic feel to it.”

That includes the material used in new buildings and alterations. While basic maintenance and updates will be exempt, any alteration to the building's form will be subject to review.

When it comes to the actual review criteria, there are no specific requirements — color, trim type, material used or otherwise. The question will be: Does it fit in? “Sometimes it isn’t something you can articulate,” Lotspeich said.

There’s also a provision to speed things along for one- and two-family homes. A planning commission employee would look over the application and make a recommendation at a review board meeting, reducing the legwork required to ensure changes are in line with the new bylaws.

Lotspeich wants these rules to work for everyone, and pulled from existing bylaws to craft the new guidelines. He used language in Stowe’s demolition bylaws and Waterbury's downtown restrictions, for example.

“We want this to be a public process and have the owners involved,” Lotspeich said of the bylaw proposals.

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