OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING
April 14, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:04 p.m. Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Stephan Chait, and Linda Lyon were present. Bill Pusey and Brian McNeice were unable to attend. Windham Regional Commission’s John Bennett, Jeff Nugent, and Kim Smith were in attendance. Also present were Edee Edwards, John Youmell, Janet Taylor, Marilyn Allen, and Jerry Pratt.
Changes and/or Additions to the Agenda
John Bennett told the meeting Jeff Nugent and Kim Smith would be arriving a little later; work could begin on the zoning amendment and then break for the Forest Stewardship presentation.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait made a motion to approve the 3/24/15 special meeting minutes as written. The motion passed, 2-0-1, with Linda Lyon abstaining.
Sirean LaFlamme thanked Linda Lyon and Stephan Chait for their willingness to serve on the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Adjustment, respectively.
Update of Zoning Regulations with John Bennett (Separate Amendment)
Bennett handed out copies of the statutorily required Planning Commission report and the draft of the proposed definitions amendment. He also mentioned the forest stewardship information to be heard later in the evening referenced the Town Plan and Zoning Regulations and would be useful in the zoning update process. Linda Lyon asked for an explanation of the term “sourced on-site” used in the revised Resource Industry definition. What is the intent, she asked. Can I only use materials from my land? Land I own? Rent? Can I process materials from my neighbor’s property adjacent to mine? What if I hire a contractor? Chait and LaFlamme agreed the wording was imperfect; it was chosen in an attempt to prevent transportation of raw materials from other locations. Acquiring a conditional use permit, Edee Edwards pointed out, is the landowner’s responsibility. As discussion continued, numerous solutions were offered, including the possibility of permit applicants requesting variances in special circumstances. Bennett, however, said that variances are ordinarily dimensional; the statute does not authorize use variances.
Bennett suggested tabling the issue temporarily while Nugent and Smith gave a progress update on the Forest Stewardship Project.
Forest Stewardship Project—Jeff Nugent and Kim Smith
Nugent (WRC mapping and GIS specialist) and Smith (WRC planner) had first introduced the Forest Stewardship Project to the Planning Commission at the Commission’s October 14th, 2014 meeting. Tonight they were back to advise the Board on the progression of their work. Funding for this three-part project is from the U.S. Forest Service, through the Agency of Natural Resources. The first phase of the project—writing a regional stewardship report—has just been completed. Nugent provided a printed copy of the eighty-page report, which was created with the assistance of a steering committee made up of natural resource professionals and foresters. The document deals first with demographics—land use, soils, forest economy—then covers threats from barriers to forest stewardship and forest stewardship methods. This latter topic includes consideration of zoning and local and regional plans. The report concludes with a section offering recommendations and potential action steps. A link to a PDF version is available online at http://www.windhamregional.org/forestry; links to several other documents of interest can also be found on that page. The second component of the stewardship project is a web-based mapping interface; Nugent said he would address mapping in greater depth later.
In her work on the third aspect of the project, municipal outreach, Smith reviewed existing forest stewardship language in the Town Plan and Zoning Regulations with the objective of finding ways to strengthen that language and suggest opportunities to educate and use non-regulatory measures in support of forest stewardship. She passed out a summary of potential strategies which includes suggestions related to regulatory policies, conservation through land acquisition and various available programs, developing recreational opportunities, and support of the town’s land-based industry. Recommendations for strengthening zoning regulations include expanding the conservation district and creating stream buffers to preserve water quality. The town might also consider forming a Conservation Commission at some point, said Smith. Edwards said the Selectboard would be open to proposals from the Planning Commission on the subject, and, for clarification, mentioned that an already existing association—the Halifax Conservation Group—is a private group of interested citizens and not a town entity. Lyon believes that group is not focused on all of Halifax or forest stewardship. Marilyn Allen said the private conservation group was encouraging people to think about a conservation commission in town. Planning Commissions, added Nugent, often spend their time focusing on legal aspects and details, while a conservation commission’s plan of action can be wide open. As the full town zoning regulation rewrite continues Bennett, who has worked with Nugent and Smith on aspects of the stewardship project related to zoning, will integrate those materials into the rewrite discussion. Nugent stressed the importance of education in all facets of the Forest Stewardship Project, adding that conservation commissions are a key factor in working with the community.
Nugent distributed a set of maps marking public/conservation/use value appraisal lands, habitat blocks, forest productivity, and trails in both Halifax and Guilford. Use value appraisal (UVA), he said, is critical in the success of forest stewardship; it is one of the best ways to maintain forestland and be sure timber harvesting is done is an ecologically sound manner. UVA requires an approved management plan, puts restrictions on development, and provides tax breaks for landowners. UVA includes a timber harvesting requirement and promotes good timber management. Half of Halifax town’s lands are currently enrolled in UVA. Chait asked whether UVA participants were restricted in what they could do with their land. Nugent and LaFlamme explained landowners in UVA had to follow the authorized management plan and UVA lands are inspected at intervals to ascertain compliance. Nugent said WRC could provide larger-scale of maps, and recommended the Vermont Natural Resources Atlas online (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/site/html/maps.htm), a massive and complex mapping site giving access to large amounts of reference material. In the next month or so Nugent will be conducting several training sessions on how to use the forestry and natural resources atlas. These may be held in the Guilford Town Hall or Halifax Town offices; dates and locations will be announced when they are established.Lyon suggested the Jacksonville library as a possible location; they have the space and WiFi. Nugent responded to several map-related questions about legal trails, public lands, conservation easements, and private land trusts. He will email electronic sets of these maps to the Commission.
At this point, LaFlamme suggested allowing visitors to speak before returning to the zoning amendment discussion.
Hearing of Visitors
John Youmell asked the Board whether he needed a variance to use his land on Route 112 to store heavy equipment. Could I add a farm tractor, a bulldozer, a backhoe? He has three or four trailers there now, and has been told they are allowed as long as they are registered. Are these vehicles in active use, inquired Chait, or are they old and unused? Edwards suggested Youmell read the town’s junk ordinance, which defines junk and explains what is permitted for registered and unregistered vehicles, and when the landowner should screen vehicles from view. Youmell asked if the town has an ordinance for open storage; Edwards said there is a provision for getting a permit to operate a junkyard. This particular area is right on the North River, said Allen. Box trailers currently on the premises are 150 feet from the river’s edge, responded Youmell. We’ve had complaints about similar situations before, offered LaFlamme, and during discussion with the Selectboard learned we don’t have apparatus to enforce. We do have an ordinance, said Edwards, but to date the Selectboard has chosen not to make enforcement a priority, because if we do that we need to do it throughout the town. This topic is on a list of items the Selectboard intends to address at future meetings. In conclusion, the Commission gave Youmell a copy of the town’s junk ordinance and encouraged him to review its details.
Update of Zoning Regulations–Separate Amendment (continued)
Returning to their attempt to clarify the meaning of “sourced on-site” as used in the zoning regulations definition of Resource Industry, the Board settled on replacing “on-site” with the word “parcel,” a suggestion contributed by Edwards.
Chait made a motion to modify the amended definitions as follows:
Earth and Mineral Extraction A use involving the removal of surface and subsurface materials, including soil, sand, gravel, stone, rock or organic substances other than vegetation, from a parcel of land. Customary extraction operations include sand and gravel pits, rock quarries, and accessory operations such as the crushing, screening, and temporary storage of materials excavated on the parcel.
Resource Industry An activity involved in the primary processing of agricultural or forestry products sourced on the parcel, excluding earth and mineral extraction. Examples of resource industries are saw mills; firewood processing; and production of pellets, shavings, and compost.
LaFlamme seconded the motion, which passed 3-0.
Bennett also advised the order of the two definitions would be reversed in the amendment report draft, for consistency.
The Planning Commission scheduled special meetings on April 28th and May 26th to continue work on the balance of zoning regulations. A public hearing on the zoning amendment will be held on May 12th, which is the Commission’s regular meeting date.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary