New uses in all districts in proposed Chester zoning changes; public hearing May 16

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Monday, May 16 at 7 p.m., the Chester Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at Town Hall, 556 Elm St., to receive comments on substantial alterations to the town’s zoning regulations less than two years after sweeping changes were adopted by the Chester Select Board.

When Chester’s current zoning regulations – known as Unified Development Bylaws – were adopted in September 2014, Planning Commission chair Tom Bock told the Select Board that the commission would be working on the signage portion of the regulations and returning with those within a year. Bock said that the sign laws were complex and needed particular attention.

True to that assertion, the commission returns with 11 pages of sign regulations to replace the current three pages. The proposed regulations and are more complex, and in some cases more restrictive than earlier versions.

In addition, over the past year and a half, the commission has added a large number of “fixes” requested by individuals or by the Development Review Board. These add up to a major change in Chester’s zoning including new allowed and conditional uses in every zoning district. Click the highlighted phases to link to a  full text of the proposed Bylaws, the proposed full town zoning map, the proposed overlay map and the proposed village only map.

This is not a full list of the changes to the zoning regulations. If you own property in Chester, it behooves you to examine and understand these changes. If you are not familiar with the bylaws adopted in 2014 you can find them here.

More complex sign regulations

The proposed sign regulations will answer the desires expressed by a number of business owners who testified last year about the signage needs of their establishments. In some cases the answer is yes and in others it’s no.  For businesses that are not home-based, the regulations offer a multiple choice of options with a single sign of no more than 24 square feet allowed in every district except Residential20, Residential40 and Conservation Residential. In those zones the maximum is 12 square feet.

Home businesses are allow one sign of 6 square feet. Window signs will be regulated for the first time and there are provisions for wall signs, projecting signs and sandwich board signs spelled out in these regulations. The planning commission has also proposed that “open/closed” signs can be no bigger than 1 square foot and open flags cannot be larger than 3 feet by 5 feet.

Internally lit signs would be prohibited under the proposed rules and there would be standards for external lighting of signs as well. Sign regulations begin on page 32.

Stronger language, more uses

Among the changes aimed at making the regulations more enforceable under state law was the switch from relatively optional language to mandatory statements. This is best exemplified by changing from “should” to “shall.” In many cases, saying that something should be done is not enough to compel a developer to do it. Substituting  shall makes the language more legally compelling.

Addition of a large number of uses – both “permitted” and “conditional” – to all or nearly all.

By way of explanation, a permitted use is one that can be approved by the Zoning Adminstrator, without a hearing by the Development Review Board while a conditional use is allowed in the district after a review by the DRB.

ALL districts get Group Home, Family Childcare Home and Private Broadcast Facility added as permitted  uses. A-3, R-120 and Residential/Conservation get (commercial fire) wood processing as permitted uses. The Forest district gets zoned for Group Homes and Family Childcare Homes although residences are not allowed.

ALL districts also get Building and Construction Trades, Commercial Broadcast Facility and Family Childcare Facility as conditional uses except the Forestry District which will not allow a Family Childcare Facility as a use. These include the Village Center and Stone Village districts.

Additional uses by district

Residential Commercial (including Main Street from St. Joseph’s Church heading east) – Heavy Construction Trades, Enclosed Storage/Storage Building, Light Industry and Open Air Markets as conditional uses.

Commercial Industrial (mainly along Elm Street) – Animal Kennel, Enclosed Storage/Storage Building as conditional uses.

Residential 40 (including portions of Church Street, Marc’s Drive, Cummings Road, High Street, Route 11  from Elm Street to Cummings and adjacent areas) – Campground, Heavy Construction Trades and Commercial (fire) Wood Processing as conditional uses.

Adaptive 3  (including the Armory, Motel in the Meadow and the Stone Hearth Inn) – Campground, Enclosed Storage/Storage Building and Heavy Construction trades as conditional uses and Commercial (fire) Wood Processing as a permitted use that does not require a hearing for abutters.

Residential 120 – Campground, Enclosed Storage/Storage Building and Sawmill as conditional uses and Commercial (fire)Wood processing as a permitted use that does not require a hearing for abutters.

Conservation Residential – Campground, Enclosed Storage/Storage Building and Sawmill as conditional uses and Commercial (fire)Wood processing as a permitted use that does not require a hearing for abutters.

Other changes

  • A camper or trailer – on private property – will need to be registered with the Vermont DMV.
  • A3 will now allow 35 percent maximum lot coverage (instead of the 10 percent approved before J&L Metrology  bought the building and found it could not expand.)
  • In a parcel on 2 or more districts we go back to the old rule (i.e., the rules for a building are governed by the standards of the district that it is in.) This was requested by the owners of the Gold River Industrial Park, but may not be necessary – see below.
  • Waivers of up to 10 percent of more restrictive setbacks enacted with the last set of bylaws for landowners who had their property before those bylaws were enacted. (page 84).
  • Commercial Industrial boundaries will be changed to include all of Gold River Industrial Park.

The Planning Commission will take ideas, criticisms and opinions back to consider them and make adjustments before sending the bylaws on to the Select Board for two more public hearings and either a vote or a return to the commission for rewrites.

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  1. rosie harlow segal says:

    Thanks, Chester Telegraph folks, for your excellent reporting. Rosie Harlow Segal