OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
January 10, 2017
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:03 p.m. Planning Commissioners Sirean LaFlamme, Bill Pusey, Turner Lewis, Kaitlin Stone, and Patricia Dow were present, as were John LaFlamme, Stephan Chait, Sue Kelly, Paul Taylor, Janet Taylor, David Brown, Cara Cheyette, Russell Denison, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and Additions to Agenda
The Commission will approve December meeting minutes.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Turner Lewis made a motion to approve the 12/13/16 regular meeting minutes as written. Bill Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
At their December meeting, Planning Commission members received copies of the town’s original (1971) zoning regulations. Sirean LaFlamme said she had reviewed the document and much has changed since the bylaws were first implemented. A map from the 1988 proposed town plan showing village, rural residential, and conservation districts, was also distributed. 1988 land use designations remain the same today, although the original conservation district included a buffer zone around its perimeter. Gabriel remarked that several times during the zoning revision process a question had arisen about the origin of the phrase (in the definition of Resource Industry) “includes earth and mineral extaction.” She noted that the earlier town plan listed earth and mineral extraction as a permissible activity in the conservation district. Have we received any additional written public comment?, asked LaFlamme. Nothing further, responded Board members. LaFlamme told Stephan Chait that the window for submission would remain open. Gabriel will create a list of previously received comments/suggestions for the Commission.
Cara Cheyette recommended that the Planning Commission wait for a ruling on the earth and mineral extraction issue which is currently before the Environmental Court before considering that topic again. David Brown told the meeting he had been researching past town zoning law, and found the mention of earth and mineral extraction seems to pop in and out. Many Vermont towns have conservation zones, he said; Halifax has had one for a long time. Brown thinks a conservation zone is a good idea for hunting and snowmobiling, and in his 17 years here has not heard of any difficulties with the way the bylaw is written, with one exception. What are the parameters of what you are examining?, he asked the Board. We are asking for opinions on all zoning, responded LaFlamme. As the last vote was so close, we wanted a broader opinion. As clarification, Gabriel added that the Commission was not addressing the extraction issue in particular; her earlier comments were simply meant to give the Board some background on previous bylaw. Cheyette said she appreciated the Planning Commission’s attempt to open the door to input, but hoped there was a presumption that in the absence of strong objection to current regulations the simple majority vote would be honored.
Janet Taylor read a prepared statement which said, in part, that the current regulation (Section 308) states the purpose of the conservation district is to protect the natural resource value of lands that are essentially undeveloped, a description consistent with Vermont state goals to maintain forest blocks and habitat connectors. Taylor referred to Vermont’s Act 171, passed in 2016, calling the legislation the “most comprehensive forestry legislation in the past 20 years focusing on forest integrity,” and saying she feared Halifax could be headed in the opposite direction. She asked the Commission to think long and hard before making changes which might weaken protection of land, air, and water resources.
Patty Dow mentioned that Mylar had not yet been filed on the 2016 J.I.F. Investments subdivision, and the 180-day window is closing. Gabriel will send a reminder notice to the property owner.
Hearing of Visitors
I’ve been here a long time, said Russell Denison; three generations. Denison follows activities related to the UN’s Agenda 21, and has come to the conclusion that there is a movement in process designed to do away with the rural lifestyle. He reminded the audience he had spoken at an earlier meeting of plans to eliminate private transportation and consolidate the rural populations of Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Denison attended schools in Colrain and later served on the school committees when the Mohawk Junior-Senior School in Shelburne Falls was built. Heath also has a fairly large school, Denison continued. Currently, there are plans to close the Heath school due to lack of students, and enrollment has dropped in Colrain. In Charlemont they’re discussing consolidating with the Mohawk School. Referring to the proposed quarry project on his Halifax property, Denison said he was told that the permit would cost $16,500. Our expenses to date, including state and engineer fees, are approaching $600,000, he stated, and the taxes have gone up considerably. He quoted some figures related to state and federal government acquisition of land, including a recent addition of over 100,000 hectares of forest land in New York, Vermont and New Hampshire. The U.S. government spends $6.4 billion annually on forest management, he said. Denison believes the quarry project is more expensive than it should be. As an example, he described a day engineers spent on the property determining the type of culvert to be used at a small perennial stream crossing. Denison estimated a 12”-14” culvert would be sufficient, but when the blueprints arrived they called for a six-foot diameter culvert, sixty feet long, with stone along the full length. That doesn’t make engineering sense as far as I’m concerned, he said. We’ve got to get things back to normal if we’re going to live here.
Bill Pusey told Denison that the state of Vermont is also working to consolidate schools, for ease of supervision. They tried to do that in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and they are pushing harder for it now.
Kaitlin Stone made motion to adjourn the meeting at 7:33 p.m. Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary