OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING/SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
August 12, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:12 p.m. Planning Commission members present were Sirean LaFlamme, Brian McNeice, Margaret Stoltzman, and Bill Pusey. Selectboard members Edee Edwards and Earl Holtz were present; Lewis Sumner was absent. Margo Avakian, Rick Gay, Bradley Rafus, Stephan Chait, Janet Taylor, Mary Horne, Blaise McGarvey, Jesse Ferland, Marilyn Allen, Susan Kelly, Chris Mays (Brattleboro Reformer), John Bennett (Windham Regional Commission), John LaFlamme, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
After Planning Commission members spent a few minutes in silent review of the July 8, 2014 meeting minutes draft, John Bennett proposed one revision to clarify the meaning of a sentence. McNeice made a motion to accept the 7/8/14 minutes as amended. Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0-1, with Stoltzman abstaining.
Vacancy on Planning Commission
Edwards told the meeting that John Brimmer had submitted a letter of resignation to the Selectboard, but will continue as a member of the Zoning Board. The Selectboard has accepted the resignation and has posted notice of the vacancy. Thus far one person—Stephan Chait—has expressed interest in the position. Edwards said that while there is no specified deadline for filling the post, the Selectboard would like to appoint someone fairly quickly, to assure the Planning Commission has a full complement of members in advance of the upcoming Act 250 hearing. The Selectboard requests letters of interest, including an outline of relevant experience, from anyone who might like to serve on the Planning Commission. This will be an item on the Selectboards’ Tuesday, August 19th, meeting agenda. Sirean LaFlamme explained that as the new member will not be on the Zoning Board, that individual will not have a vote on ZBA issues.
Review Criteria for Act 250 Denison/Quarry Issue
Indicating a sealed envelope resting on the table before her, Sirean LaFlamme explained she had received the packet from an unnamed resident, and understood it to contain notes related to the Act 250 Denison quarry application. Before examining the contents, LaFlamme had questions about the propriety of conversing with a pending application’s proponents or opponents, or receiving evidence for or against a proposed project outside of an actual hearing. She quoted a passage from a Vermont Department of Housing & Community Affairs tutorial instructing the avoidance of partisanship before evidence is heard, and referred to Halifax town’s Code of Ethics, which defines a conflict of interest as “a situation where a public officer has publicly displayed a prejudgment of the merits of a particular quasi-judicial proceeding.”
In the ensuing exchange, John Bennett pointed out that these quoted constraints were written in the context of directing town officials’ behavior when functioning in a quasi-judicial capacity. He drew a line of demarcation between a town board—such as the ZBA—operating as a regulatory body while making a ruling on a local permit application, and a Planning Commission collecting information and opinion relating to a pending Act 250 application. In the latter situation the Planning Commission has party status but no judicial power. As the applicants for the Act 250 project currently under review have not yet requested a local conditional use permit from the Zoning Board, Bennett said there may be no current cause for concern, although that could change when the permit request arrives.
Edwards then reviewed portions of Attorney Robert Fisher’s Act 250 procedural advice, given during the May 1st, 2014, joint Planning Commission/Selectboard meeting. Some of the salient points she extracted from that interview included Fisher’s statements that 1) the Selectboard and the Planning Commission both have party status, 2) while the majority of Act 250 projects are approved, it is up to town officials to identify specific concerns for or against to assist the Environmental Commission’s decisions regarding what conditions must be met, and, 3) to ensure they are well-informed about which criteria to concentrate on, both the Selectboard and the Planning Commission should solicit as much public opinion as possible.
The balance of the debate focused primarily on reaching an understanding of how Planning Commission members who were also Zoning Board members could effectively proceed with the Act 250 application evaluation. Stoltzman thought it useful to remember that she and her colleagues, functioning as the Planning Commission, would be comparing application detail with town plan recommendations, but, when acting as the Zoning Board on the local permit petition, would be guided by town zoning law. Chait made a clear distinction between information-gathering while maintaining a neutral position and decision-making when a judgment was in order, and—after he and Holtz both advocated transparency and openness—it was agreed that the sealed envelope which had prompted Sirean LaFlamme’s original question would be opened, copied, and made available for public viewing in the town office alongside the other Act 250 documents. A copy will also be attached to the meeting minutes in the Selectboard’s binder on the back shelves in the office.
Attention now turned to Edwards’ posterboard list of the ten Act 250 criteria. Edwards voiced her hope that, prior to the initial September 9th hearing, the town could create organized commentary addressing any criteria they deem especially pertinent. Bennett advised that the Environmental Commission gives attention to one criterion at a time, first identifying those not in need of in-depth review and designating them closed. Once a determination is made the Commission will not ordinarily revisit that particular topic, so those with party status wishing to present comments and concerns should prepare their remarks in advance of the hearing. Bennett also encouraged submitting comments and questions to the Environmental Commission before the date of the hearing. The Planning Commission will hold a special meeting at 7:00 p.m., August 26th, in the town office, for further discussion. John Bennett agreed to attend, as did Edee Edwards. Edwards will make printed copies of the Town Plan for those Commission members who don’t already have one.
Update of Zoning Regulations with John Bennett
Bennett reviewed the zoning regulations update schedule and suggested the Planning Commission should give priority to consideration of the Act 250 application for the present, returning to the zoning update project after homework related to the quarry project has been completed. As the grant pertaining to the zoning update extends to May 2015, Bennett believes there is still ample time to do a thorough examination of that portion of the zoning regulations still awaiting review.
Sirean LaFlamme elicited applause when she announced her willingness to accept the position of Planning Commission Chairperson. Pusey made a motion to “hire” Sirean LaFlamme as chair of the Planning Commission. Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0-1, with LaFlamme abstaining.
Pusey made a motion to adjourn the meeting. Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0. The meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m.