To the editor: A call for clarity in Chester’s planning

Having received notice of a Planning Commission meeting on the evening of Monday,  Sept. 15, I attended to ask a question about the addition of a new conditional use in the Residential/Commercial district in the current draft of the Unified Development Bylaws. The new use is “Automotive Fuel/Service/Sales” and it would allow for dealerships for new and used cars, trailers and mobile homes, stations to provide service for cars trucks, trailers and mobile homes and new gas stations to be built on Main Street between Maple Street and Pleasant Street.

At the call for Citizens Comments I asked for the reason the commission added automotive uses since it had been zoned out of that area since Chester’s residents voted to adopt zoning in 1975.

Naomi Johnson, who appeared to be presiding at the meeting in Tom Bock’s absence, was unable to provide one, other than: “We felt it would be appropriate…” That’s simply stating the obvious, I pointed out, and I asked for a specific reason. She would not provide one other than it’s what the Planning Commission desired.

In such a pattern where an administrative body maintains a position with such resistance to reconsideration but is unable or unwilling to state a reason for it, the question arises: “What is the real motivation for this?”

The answers to that question may be innocent and legitimate, but the community at large should reflect on the degree to which their interests are being supported when there is such lack of transparency and communication between the members of the governing body and the community it represents.

Most of us in the Chester area are eager to see robust commercial success in our community. No one is resisting that. On the contrary, we wish to see short and long term wisdom exercised in town planning strategies thus helping ensure confidence in the community’s financial health for a long time to come.

Instead, the term we are hearing disturbingly often is “spot zoning” – changing zoning to facilitate specific and singular interests. Time does not reward such haphazard approaches.

Select Board member Bill Lindsay was right when he pointed out to those attending the Sept. 3, 2014 Select Board meeting that the Town should be working on efforts to develop mixed use developments in the center of Chester as per the Vermont State directive to that effect. I agree completely.

The definition of “mixed use” in the new zoning regulations is exactly what Chester needs. That is, “a variety of complimentary and integrated uses, such as … residential, retail, restaurant, professional office and personal services, in a compact urban form.” Rather than allowing strip development, let’s find some positive steps to take that will grow Chester in a way that makes it prosperous without jeopardizing the essential character that sets it apart.

Claudio Veliz

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