July 8, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:32 p.m. Planning Commission members present were Sirean LaFlamme, Brian McNeice, and Bill Pusey. John Brimmer and Margaret Stoltzman were absent. Also present were Margo Avakian, Rick Gay, Stephan Chait, Edee Edwards, John Bennett (Windham Regional Commission) and Robbin Gabriel.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Brian McNeice made a motion to accept the 6/10/14 regular meeting minutes as written. The motion was seconded by Bill Pusey, and passed, 3-0.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan Chait, who was attending his first Halifax Planning Commission meeting, asked for and received a round of introductions from all present.
Update of Zoning Regulations
Sirean LaFlamme directed attention to Article 6, Wireless Telecommunications Facilities, as the starting point for the evening’s session. John Bennett told the Commission that this section of the town’s zoning regulations no longer carried the weight it had when originally adopted, as the Legislature has since given wireless providers the option of processing their applications under the Public Service Board’s Section 248a, and the town has no authority over things regulated by the Public Service Board. If, however, an applicant should choose to go through Act 250, the town’s regulations would apply at the local level. For 248a applications, the town can raise issues related to local zoning rules and ask that the Public Service Board examine those concerns during their proceedings, but the Public Service Board is only required to give due consideration to the town’s recommendations.
Edee Edwards commented that the law putting into effect the expedited 248a process was originally set to expire July 1, 2014 and has since been extended to June 30, 2017. Should the Legislature take no further action, the town’s wireless telecommunications bylaw would regain its former authority. That possibility, coupled with wisdom gained during involvement with the current VTel Halifax Center tower application process, led her to suggest retaining this section of the zoning regulations, but postponing review until other bylaws had been reworked.
The window for commentary once a 248a application has been submitted is 20 days, which, LaFlamme pointed out, is inadequate for careful review and response, especially as Commission meetings are held only once a month. Bennett said the 248a process requires an applicant to submit a pre-filing notice 45 days in advance of the actual filing, and that 45-day period is also an opportunity for the town to present comments.
The Board was interested in knowing how Halifax zoning ordinances compared with those of other Vermont towns. Bennett believes they are based on one of several versions of a model possibly provided by VLCT and used by most towns in the state. He will research the subject further.
Citing safety, Chait asked if the telecommunications bylaw addressed potential health issues related to concentration of radio waves. No, Bennett replied; that area is regulated by the FCC and towns have no say in radiation issues. Chait also inquired about revenue to the town once the VTel tower is constructed. Not to the town, but to the landowner, Bennett answered.
Detail of Revisions to Section 6
(Interested readers please note: For reference purposes, the full text of Halifax Zoning Regulations can be found on the town website under “Policies” on the home page.)
Section 601:7—Edwards wanted a definition of “performance standards and incentives,” and Bennett pointed to the specifics described in Section 609.
Section 602—McNeice suggested inclusion of a reference to the change in the law (the 248a expedited process). Edwards designed this lead-in to the first sentence: “Unless the applicant chooses to follow 30 VSA 248a, then, pursuant to . . .” The second sentence in the section refers to 24 VSA 4407 which, according to Bennett’s copy of the statutes, has been repealed. He will research the change.
Section 603—After a discussion of possible locations for microcell placement, the words “utility poles” were added after “roofs” in the first sentence.
At this point attention was given to the separate glossaries attached to several of the zoning articles. Talk centered around combining these definitions but, as Bennett pointed out, a term used within a specific section of the regulations—flood hazards, for instance—may have a different meaning when used within another section, such as telecommunications.
Section 607—Pusey asked for clarification of the phrase “natural person” as used in 2(a). Bennett and Edwards said this is a legal term denoting an individual, rather than a business. The words “email address” were added to 2(a) and 2(b). The words “structural standards” were removed from 2(d)(ix). A new item (xiii) was added under 2(d) to “include demonstration of backup power sufficient for resiliency during a storm.” Bennett also added a note to include balloon test and viewshed analysis requirements to this section as a new item (2(d)(xiv).)
Section 609—Bennett suggested moving the qualifier “to the extent practicable”—found within the first sentence–to the end of that sentence.
Section 610—Referencing item 2, Bennett said that “20 feet above the average height of the tree line” (in the first sentence) is restrictive; trees grow, and applicants invariably want 40 to 60 feet. However, the town would have the option of issuing a waiver should the occasion arise. Edwards noted that the last sentence of item 2 is worded to support that alternative.
Section 618—The item states that application fees shall be established by the Planning Commission/ZBA. Bennett questioned the accuracy of this specification; he believes fees are established by the Selectboard. No immediate conclusion was reached on this issue.
Section 622 (Glossary)—The Board agreed to simply highlight this listing in the table of contents with bold.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed. The VTel tower petition was opened and is available on the back table in the town office for the public’s review.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m.
Secretary pro tem