OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
September 13, 2016
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Planning Commission members Bill Pusey, Turner Lewis, Kaitlin Stone, and Patty Dow were present; Sirean LaFlamme was unable to attend. Stephan Chait, Lewis Sumner, Marilyn Allen, Paul Taylor, Janet Taylor, Sue Kelly, and Robbin Gabriel were also in attendance.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
The Commission decided to postpone approval of July 12, 2016 meeting minutes after Stephan Chait questioned the validity of a vote by less than a majority of the full Board. Three Board members were present at the July 12th meeting; only two of those three were present at the current meeting.
Turner Lewis, who attended a recent VLCT workshop in Fairlee, told the meeting he had learned much of value, and offered to share material with his fellow members.
Discuss Selectboard Letter to Planning Commission
As Pusey introduced this item of business, Chait asked for a copy of the letter. Several copies were handed out to the audience. Pusey read the letter for the record, as follows:
During hearings and meetings on the zoning regulation issue this year, the Selectboard heard numerous citizens testify to a desire for simpler, less restrictive zoning bylaws. This opinion was shared by those in favor of zoning repeal as well as those wishing to retain zoning regulations.
The Selectboard would therefore like to encourage the Planning Commission to consider undertaking a rewrite of the Town’s zoning bylaw to create a basic set of regulations which support and are consistent with our Town Plan goals while minimizing restrictions on the practical, everyday work and personal activities of rural property owners.
The letter was addressed to the Planning Commission and signed by all Selectboard members.
What is your favor on that? Pusey asked his colleagues. Turner Lewis said he would like more information on what minimizing means. I’ve read a number of things we would obviously want to retain, he added, but some wording could be altered to allow more flexibility. Pusey agreed. Lewis Sumner said one issue was restrictions on accessing gravel in the Conservation District. Someone recently circulated a letter stating gravel had never been taken out of the Conservation District, Sumner continued. That’s false; I know there is gravel in that district, and we have taken it out. After the zoning repeal vote in August, one resident spoke at a meeting of his intention to initiate a citizen’s petition to revisit zoning regulations, but decided to wait after hearing of the Selectboard’s letter to the Planning Commission. Sumner said he had spoken to others who voted to retain zoning but would still like to see changes made. Turner Lewis asked whether the Conservation District was town-owned; he was told it was privately owned property, with the exception of one small parcel. If the issue is gravel, said Chait, why doesn’t the letter say so? He thought the letter vague, and said if people thought the regulations too complex they should identify specific concerns. That was just one thing, said Sumner, and Kaitlin Stone added she thought the Selectboard wanted the Planning Commission to look at all of the zoning. I don’t have a problem with this letter, she said, I think it is a good idea for us to look at the zoning laws. The Selectboard did not want to tell the Planning Commission how to do their work, said Sumner. That’s why we did not get specific.
Pusey said the Commission needed some input on the subject. Obviously, it was a very close vote, with contention on both sides. If we can make everybody reasonably happy, that would be a good goal. Sue Kelly asked Pusey to move his seat at the Board table so he was facing the audience, which Pusey did. Marilyn Allen suggested a survey of all the landowners in the Conservation District, to learn owners’ opinions on property rights. We have a good Town Plan, said Kelly, so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. The zoning regulations are meant to implement the Town Plan goals. The letter, as written, is so broad as to be almost meaningless, commented Paul Taylor, who suggested developing a process to identify which areas of the regulations to address. It can’t just be based on the vocalizations of a loud few, he added. Pusey pointed out that “loud few” was misleading; the vote (on both revised regulations and repeal) was very close.
Chait reminded the meeting that substantial sections of the zoning were taken from State statute—Chapter 117. Guilford does not have its own zoning, said Pusey, they are under State statute. He and Chait both volunteered to look into how Guilford manages conservation land. Kelly urged the Board not to lose sight of the fact that voters in large turnouts had twice endorsed the Town’s regulations this year. I agree, said Pusey; we didn’t have much information on the negative side—we need feedback. Chait gave several examples of zoning revisions which were intended to clarify, and wondered whether those changes were being viewed as restrictions.
The Commissioners discussed various methods of soliciting information from the public regarding specific areas to be addressed in the zoning regulations. Patty Dow brought up the possibilities of a survey, a mailing, a notice on the Town Office sandwich board, or a request for citizens’ input on the next meeting agenda. Notices will be posted shortly on the local bulletin boards, the town web site, and Front Porch Forum. Dow will put a notice on the sandwich board in advance of the Planning Commission’s October 11th meeting, and the agenda will include a special request for residents to come and voice their opinions.
Pusey asked whether the Zoning Board had a legal obligation to report construction in town for which permits might not have been issued. Gabriel said that while the Zoning Administrator watched for such activity, and occasionally a private citizen brought something to the Zoning Administrator’s attention, she was not aware of any laws to that effect.
Hearing of Visitors
No further comments.
Pusey made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Turner Lewis seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0. The meeting was adjourned at 7:48 p.m.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary