Chester board considers sex offender ordinance

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Two items on the agenda for Sept. 7 meeting of the Chester Select Board brought out interested residents: a proposed ordinance to limit where sex offenders could live in Chester and a discussion of whether 19 roads that are plowed and maintained by the town are in fact private driveways and should be reclassified or dropped from the town road inventory.

Mary Jane Miles proposes an ordinance to restrict where sex offenders can live in Chester

Mary Jane Miles proposes an ordinance to restrict where sex offenders can live in Chester

Chester resident Mary Jane Miles asked the board to consider enacting an ordinance modeled after one enacted in Rutland in 2008. Miles said that her effort stemmed from the way an effort to house “transitional” inmates from the prison in Springfield was handled in 2014.

The non-profit organization Restorative Justice Center had asked the Select Board for its assent – but not permission – to look for a house where three prisoners would live under supervision. That question turned into a number of well-attended hearings in which residents on both sides of the issue argued the merits of “transitional housing.”

Under federal housing law, the Justice Center did not need the town’s permission and placed several former inmates in a house owned by Robert Record at the corner of Main and Pleasant. That house was torn down to make way for the Jiffy Mart gas station under construction now.

Miles pointed out that “high risk” sex offenders were among those housed on that corner between two schools, near a day care center and across the street from a liquor store. She suggested that an ordinance restricting where sex offenders could be housed would be helpful in keeping this from happening again.

“Transitional housing could put people anywhere and you can’t do a thing about it unless you have a local law,” said Miles. “Without it we are wide open.”

Police Chief Rick Cloud discusses the proposal with Miles and other audience members

Police Chief Rick Cloud discusses the proposal with Miles and other audience members

Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud said he wants to protect Chester – especially its children – but he cautioned that Rutland and Chester are two very different places with different resources. “Rutland has more levels of law enforcement,” said Cloud saying that rather than adopting a similar ordinance Chester should talk with the town’s attorney and with Rutland about how to do this.

Gassetts resident Roy Spaulding told the board that there are prisoners living across from him in transitional housing where there is not cell service or GPS for monitoring and that he was concerned about letting his child outside to play.

“Two years have passed,” said Miles referring to the 2014 controversy. “I’d hate to see another year pass before we do something.”

Single home town roads questioned

Town Manager David Pisha told the board that more research was necessary into the question of whether the town should be plowing and maintaining 3.42 miles of town roads that are – in essence – private driveways. The driveways range from about 160 feet to about 1,848 feet in length and are inventoried as Class 3 town highways. Discontinuing the roads would put the burden of upkeep and plowing on the homeowner. It would include bridges on those roads that have them.

Smokeshire resident Derek Suursoo called on the board to directly notify those homeowners involved. “It’s important to people on these roads and to the adjacent properties,” said Suursoo, calling it “a technically dangerous idea.”

Tom Hildreth, left, and Frank Kelley exhibit the town flag given by David Sheuffleberg for the 250 celebration

Tom Hildreth, left, and Frank Kelley exhibit the town flag given by David Sheuffleberg for the 250 celebration

Pointing to the experience of Cavendish, Suursoo said it got very legal and very nasty.

Board chair John DeBenedetti asked what effect giving up more than three miles of road inventory would have on funding that the town receives from the state, based on road mileage. DeBenedetti also asked if not having to plow and maintain the roads in question would offset such a loss.

Board member Arne Jonynas reiterated his feeling – expressed when the town gave up 800 feet of Quarry Road to a private landowner in return for not maintaining it – that he doesn’t like the idea of giving up town property or right of way.

The board did not discuss the option of reclassifying the roads as Class 4 under which they would remain town property. The town does not plow or maintain Class 4 roads but is responsible for bridges on those roads.

Suursoo asked that the list of roads be made public and that the question become an agenda item, so affected homeowners would be warned.

Flags, speed traps and gasoline

Chester 250 committee co-chair Frank Kelley applauds the efforts of everyone involved in the celebration

Chester 250 committee co-chair Frank Kelley applauds the efforts of everyone involved in the celebration

Tom Hildreth and Frank Kelley came before the board to wrap up the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the naming of Chester under the 1766 New York patent. They thanked the contributions of many individuals and organizations and asked the board whether the idea of having a time capsule put aside for the 300th anniversary. The pair also presented a flag made by David Shuffleburg of Springfield who applied the concepts of heraldry to a “town flag.”

The flag shows three lines symbolizing three branches of the Williams River becoming one in Chester with the shield of the Earls of Chester and the lion of the Chandler family crest. The Chandlers were early settlers of the town who took a hand in asking for a New York patent for New Flamstead, which they organized under a New Hampshire grant. Hildreth also joked the three lines might also represent the three founding dates the town can claim.

Police Chief Cloud also answered a number of questions raised by board member Dan Cote about managing the speed of traffic in town. The discussion touched on whether the town should buy more flashing radar signs and whether the town wants to be known as a speed trap. Cote asked Cloud to explore other ways of keeping people within the speed limits.

The board looked at a letter from Sheldon Ghetler of the Stone Hearth Inn asking that his property be zoned commercial rather than Adaptive 3 so that he can dispense gasoline to snowmobilers during the winter. Board members said that such a change would have to come from the Planning Commission in i’s review of the Unified Development Bylaws.

The meeting ended with an executive session to continue the ongoing performance review of Town Manager Pisha.

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