Select Board awaits legal opinion before filling DRB slots

By Cynthia Prairie

The Chester Select Board may have intended to appoint two members and one alternate to the Development Review Board at its Wednesday, May 2, regular meeting, but a filing by attorneys for the Zaremba Group, which wants to build a Dollar General on Main Street, thwarted the plan.

Diane Morgan Ashworth addresses the issue of residency for DRB appointees./ Photos by Cynthia Prairie

Zaremba, through attorney David Cooper, had issued a response to Smart Growth Chester’s “Motion to Reconsider” concerning the DRB’s approval of the Dollar General proposal. Zaremba’s response also included a rebuttal to the contention that the DRB was not properly constituted when it made its decision in April since the terms of two DRB members had lapsed before the end of the final Dollar General hearing and before a decision was rendered.

In its filing, Zaremba contends that the argument that the DRB was not legal “is contrary to centuries old legal precedent, and a red herring.” Smart Growth’s Shawn Cunningham* had called to the Select Board’s attention the fact that the terms of the DRB ran to early March, but that the Select Board had failed to fill two lapsed positions. The Select Board had thought that the terms were up in June.

Reached yesterday, town manager David Pisha said, the “Select Board has put everything on hold … waiting to hear from (the town) attorney,” who had been on vacation until recently. Pisha added that, should the Select Board get an opinion soon, it would still have time to appoint new members and give notice of the next DRB meeting, which was to be held Monday, May 14. That meeting was to begin to consider a conditional use permit for the Chester-Andover Family Center to take over the old Putney Pasta building.

Select Board chair John DeBenedetti did not return a phone call seeking comment on the state of the appointments process.

The Select Board’s attempts to fill the vacant DRB seats began in late April, but has had to cross its own bumpy road as the Select Board navigates State Open Meetings Laws.

On Tuesday, May 1, the Select Board held a special session to interview candidates for the DRB. However, that special session had been at first improperly warned in what the Select Board intended to be an executive session without public attendance or input. Once told of the error, the Select Board issued a revised warning, with an open session but without the required period for public comment.

Even so, two dozen residents showed up for the 6 p.m. meeting. Chair DeBenedetti opened the floor to comment “as a courtesy.” And for the next 45 minutes, a dialogue between the Select Board and the audience ensued. Cunningham objected to interviews taking place behind closed doors, which had not been done before.

Select Board member Derek Suursoo said this “reflects a new way of doing business.”

Resident Heather Chase also expressed her support for transparency in government, saying that she attended “meetings not to undermine or (cause anyone to) think that I don’t trust the elected officials. We want transparency in government at all levels.”

“We want transparency in government at all levels.”
Heather Chase

Others expressed their support for former DRB member Scott Wunderle, who is one of the two members whose terms inadvertently lapsed but was reapplying for a seat on the board. While others had questions about the process of selecting replacements, including qualifications and whether someone had to be a resident or landowner of Chester to sit on the DRB. (No.)

After 45 minutes, the public comment session was closed and the DRB the Select Board began interviewing the four candidates: Scott Wunderle, Amy O’Neil, Carla Westine and Kathy Pellett.

Also at the May 2 Select Board meeting

  • The public meeting regarding the proposed biomass plant for North Springfield scheduled for May 10th has been canceled. It will be rescheduled for a date in June that is yet to be determined.
  • The board discussed the project to change the town street lamps to LED lights while eliminating some existing lights. Maps showing the existing lights and those to be eliminated can be seen at the Town Hall.
  • The board took up the subject of the penalty that can be levied on a homestead declaration that is filed late. In the past, the town has chosen to waive the penalty but with changes in the rules and an increase in the penalty, lister Wanda Purdy argued that the town would be giving up income that it should get. The board voted unanimously to assess the penalty for late declarations.
  • At the end of the meeting, the board appointed Linda Stowell to the Council on Aging unanimously without interview or discussion.

    *The reporter of this article is married to Shawn Cunningham.
    + Shawn Cunningham contributed the May 2 report.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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