OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD PUBLIC HEARING MINUTES
September 25, 2018
On Saturday, September 22, 2018 Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, met with interested citizens and traveled to inspect portions of Aldrich, Hall, and Old County North Roads, which are under consideration for reclassification. Faith Ranney, Debbie Ranney, Shelly Ranney, Michael LaRiviere, Douglas Towler, Cara Cheyette, Doug Parkhurst, Michael Drummey, and Walter Jones were present at various times in the different locations.
Chairman Lewis Sumner opened the reclassification public hearing on Aldrich, Hall, and Old County North Roads at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Mitchell Green and Bradley Rafus were present, as were Town Attorney Robert Fisher, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Faith Ranney, Leanne Hector, Peggy Rafus, Cara Cheyette, Michael Drummey, Michael Bruno, Craig Stone, and Robbin Gabriel.
Sumner read the description of the first road under consideration as follows: Aldrich Road (TH44) is a Class 3 road with a Class 4 segment intersecting the Whitingham/Halifax border. The 1,452-foot Class 4 segment will be considered for reclassification as Class 3.
After confirming with Sumner that the Board would hear comments on each of the three roads separately, Fisher explained the process to the audience. The purpose of the hearing is to hear comments, concerns, or suggestions from those present, he said. Once the hearing is closed, the Selectboard has sixty days to make its written decision with regard to the reclassification. Fisher encouraged participants to ask questions about the process at any time. He then invited comment on the Aldrich Road reclassification proposal.
Doug Parkhurst: In general, said Parkhurst, I think any improvement to any of our town roads is a benefit not only to the people who live on the road but to the community.
Michael Bruno: Since Act 46 (actually Clean Water Act 64) is driving the Town toward having to maintain Class 4 roads anyway, by making it into Class 3 at least the Town gets some reimbursment from the State for that effort. It’s a benefit in that way, as well.
Craig Stone: Who bears the burden of improving a Class 4 road to Class 3? In a reclassification, you don’t have to bring the road up to town standards, responded Fisher. The Town can bring it up to standards if it wishes to improve the road. Theoretically, the Town could improve it for year-round use, and consider increased traffic, but per statute it is not a requirement that the Town improve the road due to a simple reclassification. Mike Bruno added that Aldrich Road is currently maintained year-round.
Hearing no further comments, Sumner closed the hearing on Aldrich Road, and opened the hearing with regard to Old County North Road. He chose to address Old County North prior to Hall Road because some of the interested parties present had driven up from Connecticut for the hearing. Sumner read the notice on Old County North, as follows: Old County Road North (TH22, LT4) is a Class 3 road from its intersection with Green River Road to the south side of bridge B37, and designated Legal Trail for .85 mile southward thereafter. A 1,640-foot section of Legal Trail, beginning immediately south of B37, will be considered for reclassification to Class 4 road.
Fisher invited comment on the Old County North reclassification proposal.
Faith Ranney: At least I could build if it were to become Class 4.
Marilou Parkhurst: Marilou asked if the Ranney property was landlocked, so the owner could not get to the house or have the house improved. It’s not landlocked, responded Fisher; the legal trail gives public access to the property. But a town trail is the only access to the property, and zoning regulations require you have frontage on a town highway (in order get a building permit). You could establish a legal right-of-way, but town highway is defined not to include a town trail. Fisher referenced case law stemming from an Okemo ruling; construction was done on property with frontage on town trails, but then the defintion of trail was changed. As it stands now if a town trail is your only access, you either need to get a right-of-way through Zoning Board of Adjustment approval, or you can’t build. From a listers’ perspective that has an effect on property value, because there probably is no house site value to a parcel that’s entirely on a town trail. If you reclassify, said Marilou, does that mean the Town can collect a higher tax on the property? It depends on how the listers have assessed that property currently, answered Fisher. If there is no housesite value attributed to it because it’s on a town trail, and the road is reclassified to Class 4, then the listers would be able to reassess to include a two-acre housesite value, which would theoretically be an increase. I think improving it (reclassifying) would benefit the Town, said Marilou; if we open it up we could get more building and more residents. And increase the tax base, added Mitch Green.
Sumner closed the hearing on Old County North Road, and opened the hearing regarding Hall Road. He read the notice, as follows: Hall Road (TH17) is a Class 4 road with Class 3 sections at its intersection with Reed Hill Road and its intersection with Collins Road. A 1,000-foot section of Class 4 road on the Reed Hill end of TH17, to extend that segment of Class 3 road will be considered for reclassification to Class 3.
Fisher solicited comments on Hall Road.
Cara Cheyette: I know we’re just talking from the Jones property to the Drummey driveway, and we’re not talking about up the hill, so it wouldn’t affect me in the way that would have, said Cheyette. She explained that she and Michael Drummey rely on the section of road in question, and cost (of maintenance) has been shared between her and Drummey, and Drummey has done a lot of the work. Cheyette acknowledged previous comments about the benefits of reclassifying, but said that to her there was not a benefit; as a matter of fact there was a detriment. That’s because of who I am; it’s really particular to me, she said. Cheyette explained she appreciated the quiet, and her privacy, and said the private maintenance creates a sort of natural speed bump. She suggested that drivers who didn’t really need to get down the road are less interested in going that way. Cheyette is concerned that improving the condition of the road might invite more traffic. She said Jeff Putnam currently plows the road and knows what to look out for, and she hoped, with the Town plowing, they would work with her regarding the turnaround at the base of the hill. That’s my personal perspective, Cheyette said, adding that if the reclassification were not done she would be willing to work with Drummey on how they share the costs. Speaking from a taxpayer’s perspective, Cheyette now offered some numbers related to State funding assistance. She calculated that $150,000 a year in State aid, for 65 miles of Town road, comes out to $23.07 per mile, and said the benefit for the Hall Road reclassification section would be $461. In the other direction, it costs about a million dollars to maintain the Town roads, so this fifth-mile of a road (Hall) would be about a $3,000 expense. Cheyette said she hoped the Board, in considering public good, would also consider that the money in from State aid is kind of overwhelmed by the money out. Cheyette acknowledged the new Act 64 requirements for Class 4 road maintenance. But if that were the answer to the public good question, then you would have no choice but to reclassify every Class 4 to a Class 3, and obviously that’s not what we’re doing here, she concluded.
Michael Bruno: A small disagreement with the numbers, said Bruno. If you just divide road miles into total cost, you come up with $3,000, but there is a certain amount of fixed cost; you have x many people on the town crew, you’ve already got a grader, trucks, and what-not, so you can’t just divide it out evenly like that. The math should be done, but it’s not a simple division.
Michael Drummey: Drummey, who lives on the section of Hall Road under discussion, said his assessment is that drivers have already made up their minds the road goes through, once they leave Reed Hill. They blindly follow their GPS. Drummy has noticed the traffic has dramatically decreased in the last six months. It has been a long time since a tractor-trailer or a tour bus has come up the road. To address Cheyette’s concerns about vehicles going up the road, turning around, and disturbing the quiet, Drummey suggested adding another dead end sign where the Class 3 changes to Class 4. Or perhaps a “private” sign, advising the road is only traversable by horse or motorcycle. You can’t fix stupid, he said, but there are ways to minimize the number of people who choose to venture up that hill. Drummey said he appreciated that the Town is considering reclassification of that portion of road.
Cara Cheyette: Cheyette agreed there had been no tractor-trailers or tour buses for awhile.
Hearing no more comments, Sumner closed the hearing on Hall Road reclassification.
That’s it for purposes of the three hearings, said Fisher. Does anyone have any process questions? Cheyette asked whether, when the Town writes its decision, it spells out its reasoning on the issue of public good. Can the Board be explicit? Fisher advised his recommendation to the Board would be that it outlines why the public good, necessity, and convenience warrant the reclassification, if that’s the decision.
Fisher asked the Board if they wanted to go into deliberative session tonight, or continue to another night. After discussion, Sumner made a motion to enter deliberative session to discuss the three roads. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The Board entered deliberative session at 6:55 p.m.
Sumner made a motion to come out of deliberative session at 7:22 p.m. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner made a motion to adjourn. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
The hearing adjourned at 7:22 p.m.