Wunderle out at DRB; O’Neil, Westine to fill openings

By Cynthia Prairie

As many expected, the Chester Select Board did not reappoint long-time Development Review Board member Scott Wunderle to another three-year term. Instead, the board on Wednesday, June 6 appointed Amy O’Neil and Carla Westine to three-year terms. The board also declined to fill  a second alternate position, after Select Board member Derek Suursoo said, “I believe we can exist without one for a while longer.”

The only dissenting vote came from Select Board member Arne Jonynas, who voted against Westine’s approval. On Friday morning, Jonynas explained his vote: “It wasn’t that I was against Carla Westine. I just wanted Scott back in there. I felt he should have been reappointed. In hindsight, I probably should have nominated him and been a champion for him.”

You can view the 7-minute segment devoted to the appointments from the three-hour hearing.

“It wasn’t that I was against Carla Westine. I just wanted Scott back in there. I felt he should have been reappointed. In hindsight, I probably should have nominated him and been a champion for him.”
Arne Jonynas
Select Board member

The new DRB’s first meeting will take place Monday, June 11, when it hears requests from the Chester-Andover Family Center; a homeowner on Popple Dungeon Road and an apartment building across from Lisai’s Grocery. That meeting begins at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Wunderle, owner of Terrigenous, a landscape architecture firm, had been on the outs with the Select Board since mid-March, when he publicly stated his concerns during a DRB meeting over a proposal to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store on Main Street in Chester. At the time, he said the introduction of a big box store “will contribute nothing to our culture or sense of community. … The shift within the village may be subtle, but is profound.” He also expressed concern that approving the Dollar General would be an invitation to other similar national chains to move in.

There has been a sustained public drumbeat against the Dollar General beginning with the formation of a group called Smart Growth Chester that says that its mission is to “help the town grow in a way that is  rational, in a reasonable scale and is good for its residents,” said member Shawn Cunningham.*

A month after Wunderle’s statement, the DRB approved the Dollar General on a 3 to 2 vote, placing 35 conditions on the developer for construction to take place.

However, several days later, Cunningham discovered that two DRB members – Wunderle and Dan Ferguson – had not been reappointed by the Select Board when their terms expired in early March, before the Dollar General decision had been made. That error by the Select Board brought several projects to a screeching halt and threw the Dollar General decision into question since, without Ferguson’s valid yes vote, a majority of the DRB had not approved the project.

Ferguson stepped down from the DRB, and the Select Board began the formal process of filling the two seats. On May 1, the Select Board interviewed four candidates for the two slots – O’Neil, Westine, Wunderle and Kathy Pellett, who has represented Chester as a state representative in Montpelier — but not before residents expressed their support for Wunderle’s reappointment and their concern over what seemed to be a closed procedure.

A changing focus and a desire to give back

In response to email questions, Amy O’Neil, corporate secretary of  M&M Excavating, wrote that she decided to seek a post on the DRB after she was “approached by several different people (both friends & acquaintances) who asked me to consider it. I’m at the point in my life now where my interests in community volunteering are no longer focused on youth programs exclusively.”

“I’m at the point in my life now where my interests in community volunteering are no longer focused on youth programs exclusively.”
New DRB member Amy O’Neil
on her decision to seek the post

She added that she “can offer an objective unbiased view to town development and (has) several years experience from the ‘other side of the table’ on land use development, permitting and compliance” and will base her decisions “solely on current zoning regulations and testimony brought forth by applicants and interested persons.”

In an interview last night, Carla Westine cited her work with the mentoring program at Chester-Andover Elementary School, the TARPS animal shelter and  town budget committee among others, and said, “I was raised by a family that believes in giving back to the community.”

She added that on the DRB, she will be bringing her professionalism and “unbiased, careful consideration of the issues and to every application that comes before us.” She said that, having served on the Zoning Board of Adjustments, “I can draw on that experience. It’s not like going in green.”

Kathy Pellett said, “I am delighted that women will be on the DRB – and more women need to step forward and run for local office.” But, she added, “I am surprised at … how the (new members) were selected.” She said that, “In so much as this was an application process, complete with almost hour-long interview, I would have expected that all candidates would have been considered and voted on. I was surprised that candidates were nominated by board members and then voted on without consideration for the other two” and that an alternate wasn’t chosen. “I’m not surprised I wasn’t chosen (for the DRB),” Pellett added, “but I am surprised at the process. Transparent? I don’t think so.”

About not being reappointed, Wunderle said, “It was pretty clear they (the Select Board) weren’t interested in having me on the (Development Review) Board. … I helped start the DRB. It’s a lot of work to be on the DRB.” But, he added, “It’s good to have women on the board. … in part because half the people submitting applications are women and I think it helps create balance.”

When asked what set the two new members apart, Select Board member Bill Lindsay said, “The party that I nominated – Carla Westine – had previous experience on the Planning Board and the (now-defunct) Zoning Board. (She’s) fairly level-headed and willing to listen to what was presented without making prejudgments.”

Asked if the May 1st pre-interview public testimony in favor of Wunderle had any impact, Lindsay replied, “No, it didn’t weigh on me one way or the other because the other applicants hadn’t had a chance to make their presentations.”

Select Board members Suursoo, John DeBenedetti and Tom Bock  did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Happy to have women on board; Wunderle’s loss felt

A number of town residents and business owners who have been involved in land-use issues expressed both their dismay that Wunderle had not been reappointed but their satisfaction that women are now sitting on the DRB.

Paul Dexter, owner of Henry Farm Inn Bed & Breakfast, said, “It’s very disappointing since Scott Wunderle has had so many years of experience and a proven record. I think it’s a poor decision.”

“I find it interesting that Scott wasn’t reappointed considering all that he has given to the community,” said Sage Jewelry owner Michele Bargfrede. “When you have a board member who has served and is willing to continue to serve … I would like to know why. I will say that I am glad to see some women on the board.”

“I can’t tell you how sorely Scott will be missed. … He’s a licensed professional that the board needed. … Scott’s abilities to read and understand plans and blueprints is a rare ability.”
Peter Hudkins
DRB chair

DRB Chairman Peter Hudkins said, “I’m glad they (the Select Board) filled the two positions. I had asked for a (2nd) alternate because, although Mark (Curran) is very good, he’s in and out of town.”

“I can’t tell you how sorely Scott will be missed. Twelve years of volunteer service on the Planning Board and as chair of the DRB: He will be missed for his professional opinion. He’s a licensed professional that the board needed. … Scott’s abilities to read and understand plans and blueprints is a rare ability.”

On the other hand, Hudkins said, “Carla … has the experience, so that’s a welcome addition.”

Claudio Veliz, an architect and member of Smart Growth Chester, said, “When someone with Scott Wunderle’s capabilities and experience is rejected outright, it raises the question as to whether the town leadership is being attentive to the community’s interest.”

*Cynthia Prairie, the reporter of this story, is married to Shawn Cunningham.

 

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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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  1. Diana says:

    I am shocked that Scott Wunderle was not reappointed to his position. Mr. Wunderle has been an asset to this community for many years, and I think he was punished by the Select Board for speaking up about what he saw as an injustice. This is a great loss for our town, and I agree with Kathy Pellett – this whole process was anything but transparent.

  2. Chris Curran says:

    I am not just disappointed, but appalled, at the failure of the Select Board to re-appoint Scott Wunderle, an experienced and valuable long time member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and Development Review Board. Carla Westine brings her prior experience as a former chair of the ZBA and was a good choice. Tradition holds that additional NEW members are appointed as alternates, although as in the past this doesn’t always happen for political reasons.