OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD PUBLIC HEARING MINUTES
June 21, 2016
The Selectboard’s public hearing on zoning repeal opened at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus were present, as were Joe Tamburrino, Barbara Pyskacek, Justina Gregory, Patrick Gregory, Don Pyskacek, James Coughlin, Lesley Pollitt, Cara Cheyette, Raymond Combs, Stephan Chait, Linda Lyon, Blaise McGarvey, Sue Kelly, Carl Barmen, Mary Brewster, Margo Avakian, Jack Rossetti, Gretchen Becker, Edee Edwards, Jim Bialowski, David Jones, Marilyn Allen, Norman Fajans, Bonnie Brown, Steven Barrows, Wayne Courser, Russell Denison, Penfield Chester, Linda Huebner, Stephanie Pike, Anthony Blackett, Jerry Pratt, and Robbin Gabriel. This list is incomplete, as one signature on the attendance sheet is illegible, and some people did not sign in.
Lewis Sumner read the hearing notice for the record, as follows: In accordance with the provisions of Title 24, Sections 4441(d) and 4444, of the Vermont Statutes Annotated, the Selectboard for the Town of Halifax, Vermont, will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at 7:00 P.M., at the Halifax Town Offices, 246 Branch Road, Halifax, Vermont, to hear public comments on a citizens’ petition which reads as follows: “To repeal zoning regulations in the town of Halifax, Vermont.”
Sumner told the assembly no decisions would be made tonight; there will be a vote by Australian ballot in August. He then invited comments. Marilyn Allen wondered whether FEMA flood insurance would still be available in emergency situations such as Irene, if the town did not have zoning regulations. Flood insurance is administered by FEMA, said Sumner, and is separate from the town’s zoning. Any property owner can purchase flood insurance, whether or not they are in a designated flood plain. David Jones asked who would oversee development in flood plain areas if there were no zoning administrator. Edee Edwards gave some history of the town’s original enrollment in the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program). In 2014, she explained, the rules were changed and towns had to incorporate NFIP and River Corridor Protection elements into their zoning in order to derive full benefit from potential FEMA assistance in a disaster. Should the town repeal zoning bylaws, it would need to adopt separate flood protection regulations to retain eligibility for maximum assistance. Jack Rossetti asked about the extent of state involvement in building restrictions. What would it mean to have no zoning? Could he put up a hundred-story building? Mitch Green said Chapter 117 of Vermont State Statutes (Vermont Planning and Development Act) would still apply, as well as Act 250. Rossetti felt the Environmental Commission might not take citizens’ opinions into account if the town did not have zoning. Steven Barrows liked the idea of removing zoning. Let’s vote it out, he said, and have no zoning, like Guilford and Vernon. They’re not having any problems.
Penfield Chester and Lesley Pollitt described a situation in Tunbridge (which does not have zoning), where someone has purchased large acreage and is proposing a development of 30,000 people. Joe Tamburrino said when he first moved to Halifax the town had zoning, but it was not as complex as it is now. Tamburrino said he would not do away with all the zoning, but he would like to see it simplified, with fewer rules. Sue Kelly had reservations about reliance on Act 250. Act 250 has different approval standards than the town, she said, and wondered whether the town would be handing the state more control. If extensive development occurs, she added, your vote at the ballot box could be one of thousands rather than one of several hundred.
Stephan Chait offered the opinion that zoning bylaw is a mechanism for protecting property rights, and without zoning, property values and rights of neighbors would be diminished. The bylaws help build community, he stated, and although some individuals would like their property rights to be unlimited, freedoms are not always unlimited. Justina Gregory told the meeting that her father, who served on the town’s first zoning board, advocated simple zoning regulations. Gregory feels the current bylaws are still much simpler than those in effect in some other places, and serve as a means of communication in the town.
Is the ballot going to be a simple yea or nay, asked Mary Brewster, or could the vote include an option to re-evaluate existing zoning. Sumner replied that this would be a straight yes or no vote on the petition. Marilyn Allen said that zoning revision could be addressed at the next Town Meeting. Zoning, she continued, is a way of dealing with neighbors who cannot resolve differences of opinion informally. If a neighbor says I have an absolute right to do this, you have recourse to a Planning Commission. I lost half my hearing because someone insisted on doing a project right at the edge of the road that I had to live with ten hours a day. I’m not one hundred percent against zoning, said Wayne Courser, but I’m very concerned about the new zoning that was voted in at Town Meeting. I think it has gone way too far. I would be for simple zoning. I got 125 signatures (on the petition to repeal), and a lot of people thanked me for doing it. They are concerned, and they want to do something.
Linda Lyon read a prepared statement describing the Halifax zoning bylaws as an orderly, fair, consistent, and defensible means of evaluating development, derived in most part from state statute and revised with the assistance of WRC’s John Bennett. Lyon advocated revising current regulations, saying repeal would leave property owners vulnerable until new bylaws were in place. Edee Edwards recommended working with the existing regulations to make changes, and encouraged citizens to attend meetings and voice their concerns.
Sumner thanked everyone for attending the hearing, which adjourned at 7:40 p.m.