Chester residents slow Planning Board action on development bylaws

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

commission eye view

The Chester Planning Commission, from left, Claudio Veliz, Tom Hildreth, Randall Wiggins, Tom Bock and Naomi Johnson listen to Tory Spater. Photo by Cynthia Prairie. Cover photo Leah M. Cunningham

The June 20 Chester Planning Commission meeting was a testy affair as the board tried to wrap up the changes to the Unified Development Bylaws and move the process toward Select Board adoption while a group of residents questioned a number of the board’s procedural as well as substantive decisions, bringing the session to a standstill.

Chairman Tom Bock opened the meeting saying that the commission had two definitions to get through – one adding processing of firewood to the definition of forestry and the other a suggestion that the town adopt the Quechee Lakes* test for determining “undue adverse effects” in zoning.

The first passed on a unanimous vote but the second was questioned on the basis that using an Act 250 test should be reviewed by a lawyer for any problems this might cause in the future.  It was decided to go ahead with the adverse effect standard subject to the review of the town attorney. It was unclear whether the definition would apply to other adverse effects such as traffic congestion and not just aesthetics.

“I believe this document is pretty darned good – not perfect,”  said Bock, trying to move the process forward. “I think your anxiety is unfounded. I’m glad you are all here, but I would like to see us move forward on this and send it to the Select Board next week.”

Bock said that people would have an opportunity to comment further during the two public hearings that the Select Board is obliged to hold before adopting the changes. “We spent all last meeting listening to the public,” said Bock noting that the commission needs to move on to the revisions of the town plan.

Chester resident Marilyn Mahusky told Bock that people have significant concerns about the bylaws. Many of the concerns of those attending the meeting involved uses added to zoning districts since the last iteration of the bylaws was adopted.  Mahusky said that state statute requires a written report that includes a statement of purpose and explanations of why each change is being made.

Mahusky explained that she and others had made specific requests for all relevant document regarding the revision of the Unified Development Bylaws, but did not receive the report, saying that this was a “clear violation of the public records law.”

Board member Naomi Johnson said that the town needed to get information on this, but in the meantime the commission should move to work on uses for the R-40 and R-120 districts.

Resident Amy Mosher noted that the documents related to planning that are available on the town’s website are wrong or incomplete.

“That’s not our care,” said Bock. “People have things they want to do, we need to move along.” Bock was referring to projects that are waiting for zoning changes to be adopted to move forward.

“You represent the whole town, not just people who have projects,” said Mahusky.

“We ought to step back and do this right,” said Chester resident Doug Somerville.

“People are being harmed by this,” replied Bock. “This took four years to get where we are.”

“And we aren’t there,” said Somerville

In discussing the bylaws, it came to light that the board was using a version from March 9 while most of the audience was working from an April 26 draft and one person had yet another from May.

While Johnson tried to return to discussing uses in the two residential districts, Development Review Board member Phil Perlah (who said he was appearing not as a board member but as a resident) said that with three different drafts “we have a basic source issue.”

As 9 p.m. approached, Zoning Administrator Michael Normyle suggested running over the normal adjournment time noting that progress could be made “if we stay on this for another hour.”

“Everybody has to be looking at the same document,” answered Perlah, “especially the commission.”

Commission members Claudio Veliz and Tom Hildreth agreed and the meeting ended. The next meeting of the Chester Planning Commission will be held on Tuesday, July 5 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.

*The Quechee Lakes test is applied to No. 8 of the 10 criteria reviewed under Act 250. Criterion 8 refers specifically to aesthetics, scenic beauty, historic sites or natural areas. The Quechee Test first determines whether there is an adverse effect in those areas and in its second phase asks 1. whether the development violates a clear written community standard intended to preserve aesthetics, scenic beauty, etc., 2. if the project is offensive or shocking to the average person and 3. if the developer has failed to take generally available mitigating steps to improve the harmony between the development and its surroundings.

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