Public questions lot size, noise proposals in Chester zoning regs

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph – 2014

The Chester Select Board reconvened its public hearing on new zoning regulations on Wednesday, July 16 with a much larger crowd than had attended the July 2 meeting, in which only two members of the public attended.

At that July 2 meeting, some thought the sparse attendance was due to it being scheduled as the seventh item on an agenda that included an executive session, making it difficult to know how late the zoning questions would be considered.

The next public hearing on the proposed Chester zoning regulations will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 6 at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Slated for an hour before the regular board meeting, the July 16 stand-alone session drew about 13 people who posed questions on a number of new or revised regulations. It did not, however, draw a full Select Board. Tom Bock, select board member and chairman of the planning commission that drafted the proposed regs, attempted to recuse himself from considering the proposals, but the board lacked a quorum of three. With the arrival of board member Arne Jonynas shortly after 6 p.m., Bock took a seat in the audience with commission members Naomi Johnson and Randall Wiggin, who had not attended the previous public hearing.

Among the topics that the crowd wanted to discuss were:

  • the new noise standards;
  • the change in minimum lot size from 80,000 to more than 130,000 square feet for more than two thirds of the town;
  • the new addition of gas stations to the Residential/Commercial district, which includes Main Street from St. Joseph’s Catholic church to the Williams River Bridge and from Stone Village Antiques south on 103 to the American Legion; and
  • a definition of what the “center” of Chester is as referred to in “special criteria” for conditional uses in Chester’s zoning regulations.

In response to board chairman John DeBenedetti’s fear that the town would have to respond to complaints about such things as splitting wood,  Bock and Johnson explained that these regulations were new, but no stricter than those of many towns they looked at.

After some discussion, it was decided to add language to make it clear that noise regs pertain only to conditional uses. Thus, a homeowner could split wood for his own use, but a commercial firewood operation would need a conditional use permit and be subject to noise regulations.

Pat Budnick, owner of Motel in the Meadow, asked how the noise limits would affect the annual two-day concert that she stages to benefit breast cancer research. Bock said it would be part of her conditional use permit, while DeBenedetti suggested it would be subject to an entertainment permit that she would have apply for annually. Assistant to the town manager Julie Hance noted that zoning administrator “Michael (Normyle) doesn’t usually look at one-time events.”

With regard to the changes in minimum lot sizes, Johnson explained that when they began working on the new regulations more than four years ago, the public workshops were pointing toward keeping the town rural. Looking at what other towns were doing and what the state of Vermont was urging, at first the planning commission looked at 5-acre minimum lots. She also argued that while it is possible to get a well and septic system into a smaller lot, problems can arise when required isolation distances (from a well or septic system) fall into a neighbor’s land. This “overshadowing” could occur on larger lots, but is more likely on smaller lots.

“Conserving open land at somebody else’s
expense is a little bit touchy.”

Arne Jonynas
Select Board member

Jonynas stated that, “Conserving open land at somebody else’s expense is a little bit touchy,” noting that “zoning up” excludes people and makes it harder for people of lesser means to live here, noting that he likes the mix of Chester. DeBenedetti said that his priority is the grand list and that he feels that larger lots means less housing development and slower growth in the tax base.

Bill Dakin asked what the reasoning behind adding “automotive fuel sales” to the Residential/ Commercial district. “Is it the goal of the town to have gas stations from Stone House Antiques to The Green?” Dakin asked. “Now all those properties across from the Sunoco station and across from the Catholic Church are eligible to have gas stations, and I wondered why that change.” Dakin did note that The Green is a different district and the new use would not apply there.

Hance said that the change was made looking at the existing use with the Sunoco station in that district. Dakin noted that the Sunoco station predates zoning in Chester (1975), that fuel sales have not been an allowed use since, then asked why do this now.

“Now all those properties across from the Sunoco station and across from the Catholic Church are eligible to have gas stations, and I wondered why that change.”

Bill Dakin
Chester resident

Bock noted that it would be a conditional use that would require Development Review Board to look at the requirements

Dakin also pointed out that there had been a proposal to put a gas station where The Pear Tree and Meditrina are today and asked if that would have made Chester more attractive.

“Once you put it in as a conditional use,” said Jonynas, “with enough money and enough lawyers you could put in anything you want, the way it seems these days. I’m not that thrilled about seeing it in the center of town. And you don’t have a gas station anymore, it’s a Subway or a Dunkin Donuts or something.”

Dakin concluded noting that whatever the board does will be part of defining what Chester is and “will stay with us for a long time.”

This lead into a discussion – for the purpose of a clause in the zoning regulations — on what is the definition of “the center of Chester.”

“I think everybody knows it’s the old section,” said Bock, “where your (Dakin’s) office and my home are.”

Tory Spater asked if the nomination for the historic district included such a definition.

“People read this (referring to the regulations),” said Dakin, “and use these as standards to make decisions.”

With a lively discussion still going on at 7 p.m., the board recessed the hearing, moving on to its regular meeting by setting Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. to continue considering the zoning changes. Board chairman DeBenedetti noted that the reconvened meeting would be warned.

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