BCRC marks 50th year of regional planning

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BENNINGTON — The Bennington County Regional Commission marked its 50th anniversary on Thursday evening, with more than 70 local officials and BCRC staff members in attendance at the Publyk House Restaurant.

In his remarks, Executive Director Jim Sullivan traced the history of the regional planning organization, which formed in 1967, and noted a few 50-year predictions about the county that were made at that time, while offering a few of his own of his own for 2067.

The commission, with representatives from 17 towns and villages in the region, also elected a new slate of officers for the coming year. Janet Hurley, planning and zoning director in Manchester, is the new chairwoman, replacing the outgoing chairman, Daniel Monks, assistant town manager in Bennington.

Meg Cottam, representing Glastenbury, was named vice chairwoman, Suzanne dePeyster, of Sandgate, will serve as treasurer, and Monks will become secretary of the commission for the coming year.

Sullivan said the planning organization was formed by the local municipal governments in 1967, during a period when many regional planning efforts began to take shape. For the occasion of the 50th anniversary, he said he located a copy of the original Bennington County Regional Plan, which was completed in 1970, and compiled some facts about the BCRC, then and now.

The early planners "definitely did their homework," Sullivan said, while adding that it is "not entirely fair," but "also fun" to look back at some of their projections of what the future would hold for the county.

Among prognostications from that era, he said, were that the population of the region would double to more than 50,000 over the next 50 years (it is about 36,000 today); a major east-west expressway from Albany, N.Y., to the Atlantic coast would be constructed, passing through Bennington; an interchange off the then-planned "new" Route 7 would be built to handle industrial development along the Manchester-Sunderland line; school enrollments would rise rapidly, requiring construction or expansion of numerous schools, with Mt. Anthony Union High School enrollment exceeding 2,400 students, the need for five Bennington elementary schools and 695 students enrolled at Arlington Memorial High School, along with a new school likely needed in Peru.

Noting other early projections that proved accurate, Sullivan said the first plan saw a need for "land use planning and policies that direct development in a way that invigorates village centers and downtowns while protecting agricultural land, rural open spaces, and the scenic and ecological qualities of our mountains and forest lands;" insistence on a balanced approach to economic development, including manufacturing, agriculture, service sector and tourism businesses; and a need for careful planning of public infrastructure while limiting the future tax burden, a diversity of housing, including affordable housing, inter-town services when applicable, and a need to protect streams, wetlands and other natural resources.

Over the years, the BCRC's budget has grown from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million, Sullivan said, and there are 10 employees today working in a wide range of planning areas to assist communities in the region.

Sullivan then went out on a limb in offering some 50-year projections he acknowledged could prove a source of amusement for commissioners at the 100th anniversary dinner.

Those include a regional population in 2067 of 48,000; the fastest economic growth in agriculture, small-scale manufacturing and energy conservation and development; a shift in population toward villages, downtowns and in-town neighborhoods; and continued expansion of the arts and recreation sectors and tourism; transportation changes, such as new rail or electric vehicle options.

More information about the BCRC is available at www.rpc.bennington.vt.us/

Jim Therrien writes for the Bennington Banner and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.

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