Chester board delays zoning admin appointment, looks at solar farm request

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The March 7 visit to the Chester Select Board by town attorney Jim Carroll just keeps getting busier. Carroll was already coming to discuss a junk yard ordinance and the mechanics of setting up a budget committee. But last Wednesday’s meeting the Chester Select Board added questions about the position of zoning administrator to the list.

Chester town attorney Jim Carroll explains legal issues for the select board in Nov. 2016 Photos by Shawn Cunningham

At the board’s  Feb. 21 meeting, it was supposed to vote on appointing a Zoning Administrator, but questions arose about who supervises the position and how the “ZA” can be evaluated and disciplined. So the board decided to postpone the appointment until speaking with Carroll.

Chairman Arne Jonynas told the meeting that the Planning Commission had recommended that the board re-appoint Michael Normyle, who has been serving in an interim capacity since last spring, when the board’s new appointment procedure required advertising for openings, even those for which there is already an incumbent.

Jonynas said there had been a lot of discussion about the position in the past few years and that he would not want to belittle Normyle, but that several candidates had been interviewed and they either dropped out or lost interest in the position. In the end, the Planning Commission’s recommendation was to appoint Normyle, who has served in that position for a number of years, to a term that would end in 2020.

Michael Normyle, right, in this 2014 Telegraph photo, looks at documents with a town resident.

Board member Heather Chase said she would like to understand who evaluates a zoning administrator.

“People need feedback to do a good job,” said Chase. “Who evaluates that position? I want to know who is accountable for managing that position.”

Executive Assistant Julie Hance said that the Zoning Administrator is a statutory position appointed by the select board and the ZA can only be removed by the select board. The statute makes the position subject to the personnel policies of the town but without the power to fire, the town manager has no way to manage the position. In effect, the administrator doesn’t report to anyone. This was intended to isolate the zoning administrator from political influences.

According to same statute, the administrator must follow the zoning code literally, but what happens when there is a complaint that a zoning administrator has either allowed something that is not in the zoning code or is not enforcing the code? There have been questions about Normyle’s approval of construction permits that did not follow the letter of the zoning code and in November 2016 the board asked for an opinion from Carroll who said that the board should stay out of the issue because in any appeal for wrongful termination, the board would sit as a quasi-judicial body. As such, Carroll advised that they should know nothing about any complaint. How that squares with the board being the only authority that can remove the administrator was not explained at the time.

Solar project seeks ‘preferred site’ status

An annotated aerial photo of the site in question. Photo provided

Bruce Genereaux told the board that he is handling the application for a 500 kilowatt net-metered solar array on the Eddy property off Andover Road on the west side of Chester near the Andover town line.

Genereaux said he was seeking consensus of the select board and planning commission to designate the site as a “preferred site.”  Preferred sites are those in which no prime agricultural land is lost and include brownfields, roof tops, quarries, reclaimed gravel pits and landfills. The Eddy site qualifies, but asking the town and regional planning for their concurrence is a way of playing it safe.

Genereaux said that the site was at the end of Eddy Road where gravel had been extracted back in the 1960s to build roads. Because the area where the proposed array will be situated is below the surrounding grade and set back 100 feet behind trees and other vegetation, the development will be almost completely out of view from the road.

SWRPC Director Tom Kennedy speaks in favor of the solar development as Larry Semones, center, and Bruce Genereaux listen.

A state rule says that grid-connected solar arrays between 150 and 500 kilowatts must be put on preferred sites, but in addition, the developers get a higher rate per kilowatt for the electricity produced than non-preferred sites.

The board was asked to consider signing a letter to the Public Utility Commission identifying the Eddy solar project site as “preferred” by April 1 so an application could be submitted by the end of that month.

Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Executive Director Tom Kennedy told the board that his organization has helped with this and several other projects and suggested that the town approve the request.

Jonynas and the board said they would like a little time to consider the Eddy request.

Development fund investment grows

Gary Gibbs, left, and Remus Preda of People’s United give the select board a report on the investment of Chester’s Development Fund.

Chester’s Economic Development Fund, which provides loans to town businesses, has grown almost 10 percent in the 2.5 years that it has been managed by People’s United Wealth Management.

Gary Gibbs and Remus Preda of People’s United Wealth Management gave the board their annual report on the performance of the fund.

In the past the fund has lent money to businesses like Misty Valley Books, Heritage Deli & Bakery, Chester Laundry and Barre Pinske.  Loans are generally for capital expenditures to help businesses grow and create jobs. The Town of Chester has also borrowed from the fund for improvements such as new water meters. The town has also used the fund for economic development projects such as paving and striping Common Street on the Green and contracting for a town website that was later scrapped.

The approximately $300,000 in the fund was parked in a checking account making around $50 per year in interest until the board contracted with People’s to invest the money for a greater return in September 2015.

Gibbs told the board that the fund continues to be invested balancing stocks and bonds and maintaining the fund’s purchasing power and liquidity. “The last 12 months have been strong,” said Gibbs, while also pointing to the volatility in the markets more recently. According to an account summary, the year ending Jan. 31, 2018 saw a return of 15.12 percent or $48,134. The total return since the fund was invested in 2015 is 9.94 percent.

And, finally, the Select Board scheduled a meeting to review and discuss the feasibility study for a new Emergency Services building and town garage for March 21, and Town Manager David Pisha says the town continues to wait for a judge to sign off on papers confirming its ownership of the historic Yosemite Fire House.

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