Chester residents take aim at proposed 3-acre lot size, gas sales zone expansion

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

Residents who turned up to offer input on Wednesday, Sept. 3 on Chester’s  proposed Unified Development Bylaws complained about a suggestion to change the minimum lot size to 3 acres and to extend gasoline sales on  Main Street from St. Joseph’s Church to Pleasant Street in an apparent attempt to make way for a move by Jiffy Mart.

The bylaws are the combination of Chester’s zoning regulations, the subdivision regulations and the flood damage prevention regulations and have been in the works for several years. These hearings are the last chance the public has to comment before the Chester Select Board votes to approve the new regulations. The next public hearing is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 17 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

Among the new regulations that have come in for public comment are the change in minimum lot size from 80,000 sq. ft. (approximately 2 acres) to 120,000 sq. ft. (approximately 3 acres) in the district currently known as Residential 80 (R80.) Under this new standard, existing lots of under 3 acres would still be allowed, but no new lots of less than 120,000 sq. ft. will be allowed. Thus an owner of a 10 acre lot could only subdivide into three lots where previously the owner might have been able to make five lots from the property.

The current R80 is the largest single district in Chester – accounting for approximately three quarters of the town’s nearly 36,000 acres.

“A lot of this is state plans being pushed on us,” said board member Arne Jonynas. “ I like local control – how much do we want to have? The state recommends 3 acres or 5 acres or 10 acres and takes away our control.”

Resident Michael Westine said, “I don’t want to see 3 acres (zoning.) I’ve got 8 acres – I’ll probably never sell it – but I don’t need you telling me I can make two lots, not three from it. I don’t know anybody who wants 3-acre zoning.”

“I don’t want to see 3 acres (zoning.) I’ve got 8 acres – I’ll probably never sell it – but I don’t need you telling me I can make two lots, not three from it. I don’t know anybody who wants 3-acre zoning.”

Michael Westine

“Mike doesn’t want to be regulated – but he’s already regulated as hell,” said planning commission chair Tom Bock. Bock said that these changes come from the town planning survey and “seminars” that were held in 2008, not from the state.

“We have received comments from a few individuals,” said board member Derek Suursoo, “ not very many.” Suursoo felt that the comments came from people who believe their interests would be harmed and that if there is a large number of such people they can petition to have the new lot sizes changed.

Board member Bill Lindsay disagreed saying that the 3-acre number makes it more difficult and expensive for young people to buy property in Chester.  Lindsay suggested grandfathering owners until they sell their land the next time.

In the end, Bock said that the planning commission wants the board to decide and that it won’t reconvene to reconsider the district size.

Gas sales, auto service expansion

Resident Claudio Veliz asked the Select Board whether it was appropriate to extend gasoline sales and auto service into the “residential/commercial zone.” Referring to the portion of the district that makes the transition to the historic center of town, Veliz said, “We seem to be working to erode that identity.”

This zone is split into two sections with one running along Main Street from just east of Maple Street to Pleasant Street. The area from there to the Stone House Antiques Center is Residential 20 (a more restrictive zone). Residential/Commercial resumes from Stone House Antiques, past Green Mountain Union High and to the car wash. Gas sales have been prohibited in the Residential/Commercial district since the advent of zoning in Chester in 1975. The Sunoco station is in this district but predates zoning.

Click map to enlarge

Click map to enlarge

Veliz asked why now, when it has not been in that district in the past. Bock answered that the planning commission was trying to change the uses to reflect what is already there. Veliz envisioned strip development from Zachary’s Pizza House to the corner of Pleasant Street. Bock replied that these would be conditional uses and that he has confidence in the Development Review Board, which would be responsible for reviewing such an application.

Select Board member Bill Lindsay asked Veliz where to put gas sales, since a number of years ago the planning commission asked landowners south of the high school (which is outside the southern portion of the Residential/Commercial district) if they wanted more development and they did not. “The state is trying to get you to develop your downtown and make it more viable,” said Lindsay.

Robert Record is owner of the property at the corner of Route 103 and Pleasant Street.  “If Jiffy Mart wants to buy my house,” said Record, “because they want to move out of Main Street in Chester and have a nice place for a gas station … I guess the town ain’t much for it.” Record said that it might be different if the house (former home of the Supervisory Union) were rented out, but added that it is a big house that would cost a lot to fix. “I’m not going to sit on it.”

Chairman DeBenedetti noted that the discussion had turned to an individual property and that the focus of the hearing should be more general. “I’m not going to allow it,” said DeBenedetti.

“That wasn’t considered when this was proposed,” said Bock. “I have confidence in the DRB, maybe the board doesn’t.”

Suursoo suggested approving the new zoning regulations, then going back to look at them again in the future.

The board asked Veliz to prove that the town’s zoning regulations had prohibited gasoline sales in the district since 1975 when zoning was enacted.

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