OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION PUBLIC HEARING MINUTES
May 10, 2016
Planning Commission Chair Sirean LaFlamme opened the public hearing on the citizens’ petition for zoning repeal at 7:03 p.m. Other Commissioners present were William Pusey, Turner Lewis, and Kaitlin Stone. Brian McNeice was absent. Nicholas Bartenhagen, Carl Barmen, Elizabeth Martin, Dennis Annear, Stephan Chait, John LaFlamme, Mary Brewster, Margo Avakian, Rick Gay, James Cook, Sue Kelly, Matt Maranian, Judi Kotanchik, Rhonda Ashcraft, Alan Ashcraft, Janet Taylor, Marilyn Allen, Paul Taylor, Wayne Courser, Joan Courser, Deborah Sumner, Homer Sumner, Regina Hardgrove, Jack Rossetti, Philip G. Hardgrove, Laura Gerdes, Penfield Chester, Don Pyskacek, Barbara Shapiro Pyskacek, Cara Cheyette, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Jason Klump, William Moore, and Robbin Gabriel were also in attendance.
LaFlamme read the hearing notice for the record, and asked that everyone present sign in, identify themselves when speaking, and be respectful of others’ opinions. She invited Wayne Courser, who submitted the petition, to speak first. I think we’ve gone way too far with these zoning regulations, said Courser. I’m not against zoning; simple zoning is great. Before circulating the petition, Courser had spoken with the Secretary of State’s office and learned that sixty towns in Vermont have no zoning regulations—nine of them in Southern Vermont. He would like to see the current regulations repealed, and start over again with simpler zoning law.
Carl Barmen suggested it would be easier to make an amendment than to rescind and start over again. I’m not sure the state would allow you to rescind it, he added. Judi Kotanchik asked what prompted the change to no zoning, and if a reason had been given. LaFlamme explained this was a citizens’ petition, signed by a large number of voters. No reason was specified in the petition, which LaFlamme read aloud as follows: “We the registered voters of the Town of Halifax, Vermont, hereby petition the Selectboard of Halifax, Vermont, to include the following article to be voted on by Australian ballot at the 2016 Halifax, Vermont, town meeting. To repeal zoning regulations in the Town of Halifax, Vermont.” LaFlamme advised the Selectboard could not post an article for vote at town meeting, as state statute first requires a hearing before the Planning Commission and a second hearing before the Selectboard before the matter can be presented to town voters. Jim Cook thought the basic issue was property owners’ rights. What can we do on our property? I take it you’re talking about the schist quarry, said Jack Rossetti in response to Cook’s comments. I don’t know anything about that quarry, responded Cook, but I think that’s what prompted it. That (the quarry) is not a topic for discussion this evening, advised LaFlamme. That issue is now before the Environmental Court.
Don Pyskacek, who has been a resident since 1969, said he is an architect who has attended zoning hearings around the country for forty-five years. When you get rid of zoning, he said, there is no guarantee zoning will come back. There are a significant number of names on that petition; if people don’t want to start all over, we may not. Zoning does a lot of things other than say what you can do on your property, he continued. He reminded those gathered that the town had voted to approve the most recent zoning revisions, and said zoning also keeps drug people away from schools and keeps other businesses you may not want out of the community. Somebody might start a house of prostitution on Main Street. Mary Brewster wondered how having no zoning would affect listers’ ability to ascertain what was being built in town, and how that might impact the tax base. Matt Maranian, who has lived in the conservation district for sixteen years, said he would like to sell an acre of his property to a friend who wants to build a one-room, off-the-grid cabin, but he cannot do so because zoning laws prohibit. He feels, however, that the advantages to conservation district zoning outweigh the disadvantages. Through attending last year’s Act 250 hearings, he said he learned zoning has a very direct impact on property values. He stated that during those hearings, both proponents and opponents of the project had agreed property values around the site would lose five million dollars in value. Zoning protects property values, and the lack of it could increase tax bills, he concluded. Paul Taylor said the primary purpose of zoning is to protect people from the unreasonable actions of others. Without zoning, any of us runs the risk of waking up some morning to find someone is setting up a circus act next door to our property; it could be dozens of things, and mean degradation of your way of life, or reduction in the value of your property. Marilyn Allen said she would like to see stricter zoning. She lives in the rural residential district, and said a lot of things are allowed in rural residential that are not allowed in the conservation district. Also, losing zoning means losing local control. The state will only come in if Act 250 is involved, said Allen; they will not come in if your neighbor, who is a farmer, suddenly decides to raise pigs.
Stephan Chait, who formerly served on the Planning Commission, addressed Mary Brewster’s previous question regarding listers. He understood from conversations with Windham Regional Commission on the impact of zoning that in Guilford, where there is no zoning, listers watch for concrete trucks to pass, and follow them to locate building projects. In our town, he said, there are zoning permit applications, and the zoning administrator informs the listers of new construction. Chait likened property rights to freedom of speech; they are important but not unlimited. Limitations start where others’ boundaries begin, he said. When one person uses their property rights without rules, it damages other people’s property rights and values. Zoning provides due process which provides all parties a public, open process, which helps build community. Wayne Courser said the town would be aware of new construction even without zoning, as everyone is required to apply for a driveway permit. And, I wonder, said Courser, what is happening in those sixty towns without zoning? Homer (Chum) Sumner addressed Don Pyskacek’s comment about zoning law controlling drugs on school grounds. That is a federal law, and a state law, said Sumner. Referring to Marilyn Allen’s remarks, Sumner said he had once been asked by a new homeowner next door not to allow his (Sumner’s) dairy cows out to pasture, as the neighbor did not like the smell of cow manure, and their dogs ate it. Shoot the dog, Sumner responded, and it’s no problem. The same neighbor told Sumner not to drive his tractor in his back field, because the neighbor liked to cross-country ski there. You talk about starting a pig farm next door—if that farm has been there for two hundred years, that’s the other side of the coin. But if I get six people building below my house, that’s all going to change.
Chait asked Courser how many towns in the state do have zoning. No, said Courser, but there are about 250 towns in the state, so you can figure it out. Penfield Chester asked about the relationship between zoning and the town plan. Zoning is the mechanism for implementing the policies of the town plan, responded Chait. Bill Pusey said each town with zoning has a town plan. Zoning restrictions vary from town to town; if you were to look at each, some would be similar, many would be very different. If you don’t have zoning, you take over the state-type zoning. The state requires every town to have a town plan, said Sue Kelly. The town plan still needs to exist. If we have a town plan, wouldn’t it be nice to have some means of implementing the plan, which is what the zoning does. Don Pyskacek has a house in Guilford. It takes more than just watching the cement trucks go by, he said. If you want to dig a well, you’ve got to have permission, and a permit, and list it with the town. If you put in a driveway you have to have a permit; a wastewater field must have plans filed with the town as well as the state. They don’t have zoning, but they have a lot of other restrictions. It would be the same here if we didn’t have zoning, said Laura Gerdes.
LaFlamme thanked everyone for coming, and voicing their opinions politely. The hearing closed at 7:30 p.m.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary