OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING MINUTES
February 9, 2016
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:03 p.m. Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Bill Pusey, Brian McNeice, Stephan Chait, and Linda Lyon were present, as were Rick Gay, Maggie Bartenhagen, Nick Bartenhagen, Mary Brewster, Margo Avakian, David Brown, Cara Cheyette, Arthur (Jesse) Ferland, Bonnie Brown, Steve Barrows, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Linda Lyon made a motion to approve the 1/12/16 regular meeting minutes as written. Sirean LaFlamme seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Windham Regional Commissioners Nick and Maggie Bartenhagen-Zoning Bylaw
Maggie Bartenhagen thanked the Board for this opportunity to speak about the proposed revised zoning bylaws, which will be voted on by Australian ballot at the March 1st Town Meeting. Maggie, Nick Bartenhagen, and Brian McNeice wrote the grant which resulted in funding WRC Senior Planner John Bennett’s assistance in the revision process, and Bennett worked with the Planning Commission over a long period of time to create the update. Maggie noted that the four hearings held to allow public comment on the bylaw revisions were attended by a relatively small percentage of voters. She voiced concerns that voters presented with a simple yes or no question on March 1st might not have sufficient information on the subject and recommended an informational letter be sent to voters. LaFlamme said the Planning Commission had not discussed this possibility; she felt the pre-town meeting informational meeting would provide an opportunity for citizens to ask questions and make comments. Bill Pusey agreed that the informational meeting and town meeting would provide a forum for discussion.The Bartenhagens volunteered to send a letter to the voters at their own expense. McNeice was in favor of the idea; a lot of people don’t follow what is going on, he said. LaFlamme clarified that a mailing to registered voters would be from the Bartenhagens as Halifax WRC representatives, and not from the Planning Commission. Cara Cheyette said notices of this sort were common practice in Massachusetts.
The Commission reviewed a draft of the proposed letter and recommended adding the actual ballot wording and a statement that the update brought town regulations in line with current state requirements. The letter will also contain directions for finding the full text of the bylaw revisions on the town web site.
Prepare Report, Set Public Hearing Date—Citizens’ Petition for Zoning Repeal
The Planning Commission has received a citizens’ petition for a vote by Australian ballot to repeal zoning regulations in the town of Halifax. This petition was originally presented to the Selectboard for a vote at the March 1st Town Meeting, but that Board subsequently learned the petition would be subject to the process outlined in Vermont state statutes, Chapter 117, §4441 and §4442, which require the petition first be presented to the Planning Commission. The Commission will prepare a report and hold a public hearing, and then pass the petition to the Selectboard for a second public hearing and, thereafter, a public vote.
Commissioners extensively discussed the details of the process. Stephan Chait noted that a citizens’ petition could only be corrected for “technical dificiencies” by the Planning Commission, and questioned the definition of that term. Linda Lyon asked whether there was a problem with timing, as the petition was date-stamped January 5th—the date it was submitted to the Selectboard. Questions were raised pertaining to what could be included in the Planning Commission’s written report. Does the petition further the goals of the Town Plan? What is its effect on the availability of safe and affordable housing? Rick Gay stated that zoning repeal would make the listers job more difficult as there would be no way to track construction, and the zoning administrator’s position would no longer be funded by permit fees. Lyons suggested listers’ hours, and therefore total wages, would increase. She also said the town would lose eligibility for certain grants if zoning bylaws were repealed. Bonnie Brown asked about flood regulations, which would need to become a separate document.
The Commissioners agreed on a tentative schedule which includes preparation of a draft report in time for review at their March 8th regular meeting and a Planning Commission public hearing at their April 12th meeting with an alternate date of April 26th . The petition would then be passed on to the Selectboard. Cheyette recommended the report’s comments and recommendations be presented as bullet points, for brevity. Rick Gay suggested a time frame which would allow a vote on the issue on the same date as the August primary vote. This would reduce costs to the town. Lyon suggested inviting John Bennett to the Planning Commission hearing; McNeice volunteered to talk to Bennett.
Hearing of Visitors
Nick Bartenhagen said he would revise the letter to registered voters and email it to Gabriel.
Rick Gay announced that his term as zoning administrator ends in March, and he chooses not to run again. Gay has talked to a number of people; Dan Menerey is the only one who has expressed a definite interest in filling the position. Gay offered to continue on an interim basis should a replacement not be immediately available.
McNeice made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0. The meeting was adjourned at 8:26 p.m.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary