OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
February 14, 2017
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 8:12 p.m. Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Bill Pusey, Turner Lewis, Kaitlin Stone, and Patty Dow were present, as were William Moore, Sue Kelly, Marilyn Allen, Stephan Chait, John LaFlamme, Janet Taylor, Rick Gay, John Coster, and Robbin Gabriel.
(The Planning Commission meeting, originally scheduled for 7:00 p.m., was moved to follow the ZBA meeting.)
Changes and Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Turner Lewis made a motion to approve the 1/10/17 meeting minutes as written. Kaitlin Stone seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Review Updated Permit Forms
Gabriel gave Commissioners a brief overview of the new permit forms, which have been re-created for greater readability and to incorporate recent changes in State and local requirements. A new, simplified form for building permit renewals has been added. Patty Dow provided a copy of a sign permit, which will included in the collection. All Board members have a set of the forms for proofreading/editing, and will submit corrections, changes, and commentary at next month’s meeting. Once the final forms are approved, Dow asked that they be uploaded to the town web site so they are readily available to the public.
Paul Taylor submitted a letter to the Planning Commission, which he read for the record, as follows:
The purpose of this letter is to state my position regarding potential changes to the town’s Zoning Regulations.
Apparently, individuals have indicated that the regulation, as written, is too complex and detailed. I, however, find the document quite readable, have no difficulty with it, and find it written in a manner that should give no trouble to any average citizen.
As for excessive detail, documents of this nature run into trouble when issues are inadequately addressed. Detail is precisely what is needed when questions arise. Otherwise, guidance becomes vague and conflicts have no clear path to resolution. As a matter of fact, the more the document foresees and addresses potential conflicts, the better are the chances that it will contain the solution to disagreements. Absent adequate detail regarding zoning regulation, it is much more likely the Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment will be caught trying to resolve conflict without adequate guidance or documentable justification. At that point, decisions become seat-of-the-pants without precedent or justification.
We bought our property in the Conservation District for a reason. It’s quiet, offers pleasant outdoor recreation opportunity, favors wildlife, offers undiminished fishing and hunting opportunity, and preserves forestry and agricultural business capability without introducing long-term invasive ventures which threaten these values. As written, the Halifax Zoning Regulation protects and enhances those values. For this reason, my position on the matter is:
Leave the Halifax Zoning Regulation as it is. Make no changes which benefit a few people at the expense of people who love the Conservation District for what is.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Stephan Chait, who had sent a four-page letter to the Planning Commission prior to tonight’s meeting, also submitted a signed copy in person. Chait said he would not read the letter in its entirety due to its length, but he wanted to make several points. The Planning Commission received a letter from the Selectboard asking that zoning regulations be made simpler and less restrictive, continued Chait, but from my viewpoint they are not broken. The other part of Chait’s letter addresses the reason for a conservation district. The letter speaks of various State and local laws, the town plan, and regulations from other state agencies as the reason why the town has a conservation district. Many Vermont towns have conservation districts, said Chait, and the State has concerns about preserving the character and nature of particular areas.
Sue Kelly submitted a letter from the Halifax Conservation Group, signed by Marilyn Allen, David Brown, Janet Eldridge-Taylor, Susan M. Kelly, Lesley Pollitt, Donna Silverberg, Peter Silverberg, and Paul Taylor. Kelly read this letter into the record, as follows:
Re: Review of Halifax Zoning Regulation—A Perspective on the Conservation District
A conservation district is basically just what the name implies: a district that restricts development beyond forestry and agriculture in order to conserve land and open spaces for future generations to utilize and enjoy as previous generations have in the past.
This is precisely what the Halifax conservation district has done for over twenty years. It has repeatedly been reviewed and approved by the citizens of Halifax in hearings and town meetings. The handful of changes that have come about in the ensuing years have been incremental and consistent with the original goal of the conservation district, and carefully studied and thought out. Thus the Halifax conservation district today represents the collective wisdom of the town as a whole and literally hundreds of volunteer hours from those who have served on the town planning commissions, zoning boards, and various special conservation district study groups.
The Halifax conservation district receives overwhelming support from those living in it; those who are affected by the restrictions imposed who one might imagine would be in the best position to object if the restrictions were deemed unreasonable. Support from those who live just outside the district is also strong, and support extends to many who live further away but still benefit from the open spaces and proliferation of wildlife that make possible the hunting, snowmobiling, hiking, and other recreational activities available for everyone in the town to enjoy.
Conservation districts reflect traditional Vermont values and are supported and encouraged by state and county government and organizations, particularly in upland areas as is the case in Halifax, where excessive subdivision and development is discouraged so that upland wildlife and nature can better thrive in state, county-wide, and even cross-state border contiguous open spaces. It is only logical that a town like Halifax with a large geographic area compared to its population would seek to encourage development in and near the village and preserve its open spaces outside of its center in keeping with traditional Vermont development patterns.
Finally, it is worth noting that any major development that were to be allowed in the conservation district would immediately and permanently diminish the property valuation of those living either in or near the conservation district, meaning that all other taxpayers, even those living furthest from the district would inevitably have to make up the deficit through increased taxes on their own property.
How long have we had a Conservation Group?, asked Kaitlin Stone. The group is not a town entity, responded LaFlamme. Sue Kelly said the group was formed in 2012.
Hearing of Visitors
Sirean LaFlamme, who is retiring from the Planning Commission and ZBA in March, told those assembled this is her last meeting. She has served eight years on the Boards, and will now be concentrating on her business and personal pursuits. If questions arise about Board activity which took place during her years of service, she has offered to make her notes and files available on request.
Bill Pusey made motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:48 p.m. Kaitlin Stone seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Interim Planning Commission Secretary