OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
February 17, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:31 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Earl Holtz, and Edee Edwards were present. Also in attendance were Doug Grob, Ray Combs, Arthur Copeland, Lynda Copeland, Stephan Chait, Jim Coughlin, Judi Kotanchik, Blaise McGarvey, Nicholas Bartenhagen, Margaret Bartenhagen, E. Turner Lewis, Susan Kelly, Cara Cheyette, Marilyn Allen, Jesse Ferland, Bonnie Brown, Wayne Courser, Bettye Roberts, Malcolm Sumner and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edee Edwards made a motion to accept the 1/23/15 special meeting minutes as written. Earl Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0, with Lewis Sumner abstaining. Holtz noted that he had been present for four hours of this meeting.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 2/3/15 regular motion minutes as written. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed 2-0, with Edwards abstaining.
Discuss Submission of WRC Traffic Study to Environmental Commission
Edwards mentioned first that she had wanted to review this matter before the Environmental Commission hearing on February 18th; however, that hearing had been cancelled. The town recently filled an open records request for the full set of data from Windham Regional Commission’s summer 2014 traffic study. While the charts summarizing the traffic study’s results were included in a Selectboard document submitted to the Environmental Commission and everyone with party status in application #2W1318, Edwards asked whether the dictates of openness made it advisable to formally present the full study document to all involved in the Act 250 process. Sue Kelly suggested sending a note to interested parties advising the data was available for viewing in the town office, while Cara Cheyette thought the established right of the public to view town records did not need reiteration. In concluding the discussion the Board asked Gabriel to query District #2 Coordinator April Hensel about whether the traffic data should be submitted.
Douglas Grob—Petition Pertaining to Quarry
Doug Grob opened with thanks to the Selectboard for their work. He went on to describe Halifax as a town rich in history which residents should work to preserve. Grob said he is a firm believer in property rights; people should be able to do what they choose with their land. But the world is getting smaller, people live closer together, and everything we do impacts our neighbors. Grob believes that the proposed stone quarry is a lot larger than most people visualize. The quarry project, he said, is like digging 871 foundation holes for 2,000-square-foot homes. Many residents have purchased property in the area of the conservation district in order to enjoy the serenity of nature. Grob anticipates a devaluation of nearby property should the quarry become a working operation; owners may find it difficult to sell their homes. He is also concerned about potential tax increases and said there would be no gains in tax revenue from the quarry’s finished product. Grob urged everyone involved in the quarry issue to talk to one another, thanked the Selectboard for the opportunity to speak, and presented copies of his notes and a petition, with 56 signatures requesting the Board and Planning Commission deny a permit to the quarry project. (See link to Grob’s notes following these minutes.)
Many of those present participated in the lengthy conversation which followed Grob’s speech. Wayne Courser spoke of the log loads he watches hauled out of Halifax every day. Those trucks are much more heavily laden than the proposed quarry trucks will be, he said, but no one is talking about them. In Wilmington, on Shearer Hill Road, Courser went on, there’s a rock quarry where they drill and blast. There are homes nearby, but no complaints about that operation. Ray Combs said he doesn’t know whether he’s for or against the quarry project, but he does not live close enough to the site to be affected by it. He’s noticed a number of people expressing opposition to the proposed quarry in Halifax actually live several miles away from the area. Judi Kotanchik, whose home is at the junction of TH52 and Jacksonville Stage Road, offered the opinion that log trucks are an expected part of the Vermont environment, but that is not true of stone and quarry trucks in a conservation area. Carl Barmen is not affected by the quarry but stated he was concerned for other people, particularly in respect to run-off and dust overflowing into brooks which flow into the Green River which feeds the Greenfield, Massachusetts drinking water supply.
Wayne Courser mentioned he had earlier submitted 74 signatures from individuals who are not opposed to the quarry operation. Penfield Chester addressed the question of providing emergency services to the proposed quarry as related to possible upgrading of roads leading to the site. It may cost the town money to do road improvements and also to monitor activity at a site somewhat off the beaten track. Edwards made the point that while she was hugely respectful of all who had taken the time to be present and voice their concerns, the Board had no authority to act on the petition under discussion outside the formal processes of the Act 250 hearing currently underway. What is it that we want to get out of this meeting?, she asked. It feels as though some aspects of the situation are getting amplified to a level out of proportion to where we are in the process. One of the town’s requests to the Environmental Commission covers the subject of the applicant making road improvements to TH52 to bring the road in line with town standards. But that decision is not up to the Selectboard or the Planning Commission—it is in the hands of the Environmental Court. Wayne Courser’s petition was pro, said Holtz, while tonight’s petition is con. The Board can recognize both, but has no authority to take action in either case. Statutory parties, offered Sue Kelly, are allowed to take a position for or against. She urged the Board to analyze and take a stand.
Cheyette mentioned that while there are property rights, there are also restrictions. The quarry is a private rather than a public enterprise, with no benefit to the town; this should be taken into consideration. She likened the ancestors of residents whose families had been in town for generations to more recent arrivals such as herself who put their energies and resources into making a home here, saying both were motivated by a common pioneering spirit. Nick Bartenhagen spoke of home values, summarizing an economics professor’s ten-year study of a residential area surrounding a gravel pit in Ohio. The study’s findings detailed home value depreciation within a one-, two-, and three-mile radius of the gravel pit. Marilyn Allen remarked on the Selectboard’s authority to enforce zoning laws within the town, and advised the Board should raise the question with the Environmental Commission of the quarry proposal’s compliance with the Halifax Town Plan. Bettye Roberts, referring to various past and present logging operations in town, decried the damage that activity left behind. We’re left with decimated property and no revenue, she said, and the profits from the quarry will leave the area also. What if it were your land, asked Edwards, that had a valuable resource, and its sale were the only way you could hold onto your property? Think of alternatives, she said. Conservation is not about never using things, it’s about using things wisely.
Bonnie Brown referred to an online citizen’s guide to Act 250. Two viewpoints were presented, one view being that property owners have the right to do whatever they like with their land, and another stating landowners do not have the right to take actions that have an adverse impact on neighbors. Act 250 is about weighing those potential adverse effects, she said. Barmen asked for clarification of town permitting processes versus an Act 250 ruling. They are two separate issues, responded Holtz. Act 250 is concerned with the environment and possible adverse effects. The Planning Commission then reviews a zoning permit application to determine whether it is in compliance with zoning regulations. Jim Coughlin advised the town should consult with legal counsel on the subject of a quarry project in a conservation district.
While the Planning Commission will address Halifax Town Plan recommendations during the Act 250 hearing, Edwards asked the Board to set a date for one more meeting, in conjunction with the Planning Commission, to discuss the transportation aspects of town plan guidelines. Margaret Bartenhagen read into the record several statements from the Town Plan, as follows: “The purpose [of the Conservation District] is to protect the natural resource value of lands that are essentially undeveloped; . . .” (2014 Town Plan, p. 22); “. . . the interior of this district should remain in its natural condition.” (p. 66) “. . . are appropriate for low-intensity recreation, forestry, wildlife habitat, agriculture, hunting and other open space uses. Development, which creates significant amounts of traffic and noise, or which otherwise has an adverse impact on the environment, is undesirable.” (p. 22); and “To discourage uncoordinated or incompatible development that may jeopardize or overburden public or private investment, or damage the town’s resources, rural character, and overall quality of life.” (p. 5) Nicholas Bartenhagen advised the Board their job as selectmen is not to weigh how many people say this and how many people say that, but to think about the facts involved, weigh the facts, make a judgment, and come to a conclusion. The law is the law, he continued, and if I were you I’d check with a good town counsel. There’s much involved, responded Edwards, there are people involved on both sides of the issue, and we’re working hard to represent the best interests of the town as a whole. We have consulted our town attorney; he told us we did not have to take a stand in favor of or in opposition to an Act 250 application.
Budget for Zoning
We had a question, said Edwards, about our budget for zoning updates. She reviewed the records of December’s budget meetings and concluded that while the Board had not specifically assigned a dollar figure for a special town meeting to vote on zoning regulations they had included monies for ballot clerks, and those wages represent the bulk of a special meeting cost. We have $750 for Planning Commission expenses in the current fiscal year, and another $2,000 for an unused community development block grant which could be repurposed to cover printing costs for Zoning Regulations and the Town Plan. We expect to have the zoning ready within this fiscal year.
Planning Commission New Member Search
One member of the Planning Commission will soon be out of town for an extended length of time, and as a five-month gap would put undue burden on the remaining Commission members Edwards is hopeful that member will tender a resignation before Town Meeting, making it possible to advertise a vacancy on the Board to a large audience. Edwards will discuss the subject with the Planning Commission Chair.
Hearing of Visitors
Nicholas Bartenhagen said he would send previously-mentioned study data to the Board.
Fire Warden Malcolm Sumner explained a once-a-year state-sponsored program giving firefighters the opportunity to purchase equipment at a fifty percent discount. This year the fire department would like to buy some gear specially designed for fighting forest fires—10 Nomex shirts and pants. These items at full price would be $1,475.20; the discounted price is $737.60. The deadline for these purchases is February 27th. Edwards said no funds had been specifically earmarked for this purpose, but the Board agreed there was money available and added the expenditure to the current Treasurer’s order.
Holtz announced he had received an advertisement from VTel Wireless—an invitation to sign up. Edwards had seen a press release reporting that towers in Whitingham and Marlboro have been put into service; she surmised the flyer was related to those start-ups. The tower in Halifax Center is not yet online, although Lewis Sumner reported cement was poured there this week. Edwards suggested residents close to either the Whitingham or Marlboro towers call 802-885-4444 or go online to VTelWireless.com to check on possible available service. What happened to Fairpoint?, asked Bettye Roberts, but the Board had no solid information to offer regarding Fairpoint’s projected schedule.
After consulting the calendar the Board came up with three tentative dates for a special meeting: Saturday, February 21st, 8:30 a.m., Thursday, February 26th, 6:30 p.m., or Saturday, February 28th, 8:30 a.m. Gabriel will communicate with the Planning Commission to determine member availability.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard and Highway Department Orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed or processed.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:40 p.m.