Essex Heart & Soul

Launch Project Slideshow

Essex Heart & Soul Town of Essex and Village of Essex Junction, Vermont

UPDATE: Essex Town Plan Wins Plan of the Year Award -- Twice!

The Essex, Vermont, Town Plan was 280 pages and mostly text with an occasional chart or graph. Not exactly a page turner.  When it came time to revise the plan, inspired by the town's recently completed Community Heart & Soul® project, city officials wanted to start over and make a plan people would actually read.

The first part of that process was to get residents involved. Planners asked residents for photos from town to include in the plan. Neighborhood meetings provided opportunities for residents to have input. 

The plan was reader friendly. It was trimmed down to less than half the size at 124 pages, color photos, sidebars and graphics. Links were used to weightier documents and policy. The plan emphasized Heart & Soul with Heart & Soul of Essex vision statement and Heart & Soul statements included.

The first chapter is devoted to an action plan with goals, time frames, and cost estimates spelled out. In the old plan this section was at the back, without as much detail on delivery.

The plan won the 2016 Plan of the Year from the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association and the Vermont Planners Association.

The Town of Essex and the Village of Essex Junction are overlapping municipalities grappling with how their futures fit together. Governing boards, committees and municipal services coordinate to varying degrees, and yet for more than 50 years, residents of the two municipalities have debated the merits of merging or separating.

Spearheaded by a network of local partners, the Town and the Village are undertaking a joint visioning process to find common ground. The question is not whether they merge or separate, but how they can best work together to lay the groundwork for an enduring future.

Watch the Project launch video:

Heart and Soul of Essex: Launch from Kayhl Cooper on Vimeo.

...and a very clever engagement strategy:


Essex and Essex Junction

Driving through northwestern Vermont, you might cross from the Town of Essex into the Village of Essex Junction and then back into the Town without realizing the difference. But for locals, the long-standing distinction between them is clear. Separated centuries ago over the issue of village services, the two have remained distinct yet overlapping municipalities. While they coordinate to varying degrees, as recently as 2005, residents were faced with a divisive vote on whether the two should completely merge or separate.

Combined, the Town and the Village are home to about 20,000 people, making it the second largest community in Vermont. It is also home to an IBM manufacturing facility which employs over 7000 people. Nonetheless, the area retains a small-town feel. While most Vermont communities are experiencing population decreases, Essex is one of the few towns that continues to grow.

Spurred by changing demographics and recent successful grassroots initiatives, the community is at a tipping point. This project will help locals determine the shared interests and goals of the Town and Village, where their futures intersect, and how they can collaborate more positively and effectively.

Check out the Heart & Soul of Essex Website that the towns created to keep people up-to-date on the events, activities, and decision-making process throughout the project.

Project Goals

  • Foster a culture that supports robust civic engagement and participation in local decision-making
  • Increase coordination between municipal governments, planning and zoning commissions including integrated Comprehensive Plans
  • Create a built environment that reflects local values and uses an integrated planning process

Project Partners

essextown_logo.jpgGoverned by an elected five-person Selectboard and appointed Town Manager, the Town of Essex encourages citizen participation in town activities. Numerous departments, committees and boards dedicated to planning and community cohesion include the Department of Community Development, Parks & Recreation, Public Works, Planning Commission, Zoning Board, and Trails, Conservation, and Energy Committees.

essexjcttoen_logo.jpgThe Village of Essex Junction has an independent government run by a five-member Village Board of Trustees and an internally selected Village Manager who oversee town activities. A Planning Commission and Zoning Board assist with Village planning decisions.

essexfarmersmkt_logo.jpgThe Five Corners Farmers’ Market  in the Village of Essex Junction offers fresh fruit, vegetables, perennials, herbs, baked goods, meat, dairy, sauces, wines, maple products and prepared foods—all the best from local famers and vendors, year round.

essexCHIPS_logo.jpgEssex CHIPS provides youth programming, parent education, and substance abuse prevention campaigns, encouraging young people to make healthy decisions.

essexparksrec_logo.jpgHosting events and providing space for Essex Junction residents to get outside, Essex Junction Recreation and Parks builds community through youth camps, carnivals, talent shows and community celebrations.

The Essex Parks and Recreation Department in the Town of Essex aims to enhance the quality of life of its residents by providing parks and open space and advancing recreational opportunities.

essexlib_logo.jpgIn the Village of Essex Junction, the Brownell Library houses a diverse collection of books and resources for all ages in an atmosphere that fosters educational and cultural exploration.

The Essex Free Library in the Town of Essex is located in historic Essex Center, providing residents of all ages with books and resources and numerous reading nooks and spaces to socialize and relax.

essexschool_logo.jpgProviding children of both Essex Junction and the Town of Essex with a high-quality education, the Chittenden Central Supervisory Union is one of the largest school districts in Vermont and promotes equality, high achievement, safety and respect among all students.

Project SlideShow

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