More brain drain at the Chester Development Review Board

By Cynthia Prairie

For the fourth time in five months, an experienced member of the Development Review Board is gone. Bruce McEnaney resigned two weeks ago, after he took a job at the Jeld-Wen plant in Ludlow.

This once again leaves two vacancies on the five-member board and only one person – Harry Goodell – with the specific DRB experience of ushering a project through the town’s planning requirements. However, new member Carla Westine, who is also the acting DRB chair, worked for about nine years on the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, the precursor to the Development Review Board. And the DRB will continue to do business with the three members it has, which, if all three vote in accord, would constitute a quorum.

A rocky season for the DRB

It has been nothing if not a rocky time for the DRB. In April, it was discovered that the Select Board had failed to reappoint two members of the DRB when their terms lapsed in early March. Those members were Scott Wunderle and Dan Ferguson. Projects before the DRB were then delayed for about a month while the Select Board consulted the town’s attorney and advertised for applicants.

Ferguson used the opportunity to step down. And many spoke out in favor of Wunderle during a public hearing held by the Select Board before it interviewed Wunderle, Westine, Amy O’Neil of M&M Excavating and former state Rep. Kathy Pellett for the posts in a closed executive session.

At least two – Pellett and Wunderle – were given a nondisclosure form barring them from discussing the contents of their private interviews with the Select Board. The Secretary of State’s office has said such a form, even if signed, is nonbinding. Although Wunderle was not expected to gain reappointment, his rejection by the Select Board was met with much community disappointment.

An alternate position was also open at the time, but the Select Board chose not to fill it with either of the remaining applicants. Saying that at some point it would be good to appoint second alternate, Select Board member Derek Suursoo argued that there was no need for it right then.

Several weeks following the appointments of Westine and O’Neil, DRB Chairman Peter Hudkins resigned due to a family illness. And now comes McEnaney’s resignation.

McEnaney voted No on Dollar General

McEnaney and member Scott Wunderle both voted against the proposal to build a Dollar General store next to Main Street Pizza and across the street from the Country Girl Diner. The remaining three members voted to approve it.

Recalling the long Dollar General process, McEnaney said recently, “My mind had not been made up until near the end of the process.” He added, “We didn’t have any fights on the board while deliberating. Everyone respected each other’s opinions. … I had to respect the opinions of those on the board. I listened to them and they listened to me.”

“Competition may be the best thing for the consumer, but it won’t be the best thing for Chester,” he continued. “Dollar General can sell stuff at a loss if it wants to. Lisai’s (Chester Market) cannot.”

Bruce McEnaney
Former DRB member

Those who voted to approve the Dollar General, McEnaney said, believed that there was nothing in town regulations to prohibit it.  They “voted  with great intelligence and forethought.” But, as an example, he added, while there are no town regulations specifically prohibiting “the processing of plutonium … if someone came in to propose that plant, we wouldn’t allow it.”

“Competition may be the best thing for the consumer, but it won’t be the best thing for Chester,” he continued. “Dollar General can sell stuff at a loss if it wants to. Lisai’s (Chester Market) cannot.”

Concerning the former board, he said, “We were … good … We didn’t shoot from the hip. We didn’t go in with a predetermined attitude.”

Asked if he had felt pressured by the Select Board to step down, McEnaney said, “They never said any thing to me directly but I got word from others that I would not be reappointed in the spring. So,” he added, “my new job requirements preempted them.”

Qualifications for the DRB

At this time, McEnaney has no plans to work again in town government. “It’s a huge time-commitment when done correctly,” he said.

As for the requirements for the DRB, he said, “You need to be well-versed in the land-use statutes of the State of Vermont, understand the Act 250 process.”

Westine said candidates need to be “fair and open-minded. … be interested and committed to the town of Chester.” She added that some previous members have had backgrounds in engineering and land development and have been business owners.

Town Manager David Pisha said Monday, Aug. 13 that the town has been advertising for replacements for two weeks now. But as of that afternoon, they had received no applicants.

To apply to be a member of the DRB, send your inquiry to Town Hall at 556 Elm St., Chester, VT 05143

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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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