Chester board talks economic growth; sets Planning interviews

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With a smaller crowd in attendance than at most of its recent meetings, the Chester Select Board on Wednesday, April 5 signed the Unified Development Bylaws that have been a bone of contention for months.

Town Manager David Pisha reports on VLCT’s economic development seminar. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

In a related action, the board discussed the questions and timetable for interviewing the candidates for three open seats on the Planning Commission and one open seat on the Development Review Board.

Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said he thought the board should concentrate on the Planning Commission first and do the DRB later. Planning has been short of a quorum since Tom Hildreth’s abrupt resignation on Feb. 28.

Board members reviewed the prospective questions that they had submitted and agreed that interviews would be 20 to 30 minutes long with time after each to evaluate the candidate.

Executive assistant Julie Hance told the board that they needed to get the interviews done by the first week in May and, after an all-out calendar wrangle, the board settled on a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 14 for three of the interviews and a session following the regular  Select Board meeting on Wednesday, April 19.

Economic Development Plan

Hance discusses the steps toward creating a development plan.

Town Manager David Pisha and Hance said they attended a seminar on economic development sponsored by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Pisha outlined the process for constructing an economic development plan, and said that a unified leadership who is willing to take risks is necessary for success and that plans should be based on facts and not opinions.

Among the slides in Pisha’s PowerPoint presentation were case studies of economic development successes in St. Albans and Windsor. These underscored the message of consensus and willingness to take risks and also noted that patience and a long view were also needed.

Hance spoke of unifying the town behind an economic development plan that could be funded by grants and other programs as well as the Chester Economic Development Fund.

While Pisha said that the key to development is land use planning, Hance took it a step further saying that they would be recommending to the Planning Commission a “complete reworking of the basic structure of zoning.”

“Zoning started in Chester in 1973 or 74,” said Hance, “and that zoning is now antiquated. It’s not used anymore.”

Hance proposed hiring a planning consultant to the town through the process of setting the current zoning aside and building a new zoning code. She noted that this would mean all the town’s boards and commissions coming to an agreement on a unified vision.

“It won’t succeed without a unified vision,” said Hance, “and that means putting people who want to move forward on boards.”

Paper of Record

The board revisited the discussion of what would be the paper of record for publishing legal public notices. At its last meeting, the board had heard from The Chester Telegraph and The Vermont Journal/The Shopper and asked Vince West of the latter to see if the paper couldn’t do better than the $13 per column inch it had bid.

Journal owner Bob Miller making a presentation that antagonized the Select Board.

In the interim, The Message for the Week bid $9.50 per column inch. At the meeting, Journal publisher Robert Miller offered to lower his bid to $11 for a three-year contract, but not before aggressively questioning the board and representatives of both The Message and The Telegraph about their offers and making accusations about statements from the previous meeting.

Jonynas told Miller that the paper of record has to be named each year, making a three-year contract impossible.  Board member Heather Chase noted that the board had asked for a price not including The Shopper in the bid. Miller then dropped his bid to $9.

In the previous meeting, The Telegraph pointed to the fact that the town was paying for placement in The Shopper when the second section of both papers (where legal ads go) are identical and so the extra charge was for nothing.

Saying that this decision “shouldn’t be stressful,” Whalen added he was not happy with the way Miller approached the board. But, he said, for the sake of the lowest price, he would move to accept The Journal bid. That motion, however, died for lack of a second.

Board member Lee Gustafson said that Miller’s tone had brought “acrimony” and “tension” to the discussion, and that since the paper of record reflects on the town, he moved that board accept The Message bid. That passed 4 to 1 with Chase dissenting in favor of both The Message and The Telegraph.

In other business

Chester resident Mike Leonard asks for an auditors’ opinion on town debt.

During the public comment period, Mike Leonard pointed to the debt that the town had taken on in the past couple of years – including a new roof for the high school – and asked if the Select Board could ask the outside auditors to give an opinion on how much debt the town can take on comfortably.

Leonard said he was in favor of building an emergency services building and that an auditors’ opinion would give the town a budget to work within for the project and the professional opinion on debt would give the public confidence in taking on the debt.

During old business, Whalen also asked if the board could revisit the emergency services building in a future meeting.

Chester resident Frank Bidwell – a keen watcher of the Select Board – asked that when the board is discussing documents – like the interview questions for planning and zoning board candidates – that the board supply copies to the audience or project the document on the screen behind the board.

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About the Author: Shawn Cunningham has written a number of subjects -- from food and wine to film, history, politics, zoning and development -- for the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, Museum News, The Westsider, The Chelsea/Clinton News, Menckeniana, Films in Review and the East Village Eye.

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