Chester zoning administrator’s action questioned

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Calling the situation “very disconcerting,” a Chester resident told the Select Board last Wednesday, that the town’s zoning administrator had issued a building permit for a property without a clear ‘use’ as outlined in the town’s Unified Development Bylaws.

Michael Normyle, right, in this 2014 Telegraph photo, looks at documents with a town resident.

Michael Normyle, right, in this 2014 Telegraph photo, looks at documents with a town resident.

Marilyn Mahusky, who has been a vocal critic of the town’s seeming lack of adherence to Vermont statutes in planning and zoning, pointed to a permit issued by Zoning Administrator Michael Normyle to Huzon and Gail Stewart to put up a 1,248-square-foot storage building at 284 Elm St.

She added that the action deprives the Development Review Board of its legal review function and denies abutters their rights to be informed and participate in zoning proceedings. And, said Mahusky, it’s not fair to the property owner.

The Stewarts bought the property —  the site of a devastating house fire in March 2015 –  on Aug. 24, 2016 with the intent of building and operating a kennel. But while the Commercial/Industrial district where the land is located is zoned for an animal hospital, it is not zoned for a kennel.

The Stewarts have asked the Planning Commission to put that use into the revisions to the zoning regulations it has been working on since January 2015. While both “kennel” and “storage” have been added to the zoning bylaws, those regulations have not been adopted by the Select Board.

Marilyn Mahusky at an early October Select Board meeting.

Marilyn Mahusky at an early October Select Board meeting.

On June 20, the Stewarts asked the commission to send their use to the Select Board for approval ahead of the rest of the regulations. But Planning Commission chair Tom Bock told the Stewarts that all of the changes had to go to the Select Board as a package.

Then on Sept. 6, Normyle issued the permit with the proviso that a conditional permit must be secured before it could be used for any use other than storage. What the permit did not say was that “storage” is not an allowed or conditional use for that area either.

Permits for allowed uses, like a residence, may be issued by the zoning administrator, but each district has a list of conditional uses that must be reviewed by the DRB.

In this situation, the zoning administrator could issue a permit for an accessory building such as a storage shed. But the zoning bylaws define such a building as “incidental and subordinate to the principal building and located on the same lot and not intended for independent living. Examples include garages and storage sheds.”

The storage building under construction by Morton Buildings of Castleton.

The Elm Street storage building under construction by Morton Buildings of Castleton. Among Morton’s product lines are storage facilities and kennels. Photo by Shawn Cunningham.

In an interview on Tuesday, Normyle said the Stewarts had visited him to ask what they could do with the land.  He said he told them that until the revised development bylaws were adopted, they could build a house and they could have an accessory storage shed as long as all the requirements and setbacks were met. And so Normyle issued a permit for a 48-foot by 26-foot “accessory shed” where there was no “principal building.”

“That’s bigger than my house,” said Mahusky during the Select Board meeting.

When Select Board member Heather Chase asked Town Manager David Pisha about the permit, Pisha contacted Normyle and received this response:

This property is in the Commercial Industrial (CI) district.  Yes, the owners of this property would like to put in a dog kennel, if that use would be allowed in the future.  In the meantime I have made it very clear to them there is no guarantee the proposed amendments to the Unified Development By-Laws will pass in their current form.  Anticipating the worst, they asked me to review options for this property.   Among other things, these applicants could have requested a building permit for a residence or an accessory storage unit.   

Even though I understand some folks may be viewing this building permit as questionable (ie an accessory use before the primary use), I believe it is in keeping with the spirit of the regulations. 

But according to state statute, it appears that Normyle may have exceeded his powers in issuing the permit, which could call into question its validity. The statute reads:

The administrative officer shall administer the bylaws literally and shall not have the power to permit any land development that is not in conformance with those bylaws. 24 VSA 4448 (a)

Even if the proposed uses of “animal kennel”or “enclosed storage” were in effect, Normyle would not be empowered to issue a permit as they are conditional uses, which require DRB review and the opportunity for those owning land that abuts the property to participate in hearings.

jacksdiner122711This is not the first time that Normyle has issued a building permit ahead of the zoning process.

In 2011, Normyle issued a building permit to Jacques Dodier for an expansion of Jack’s Diner. The plan was to create a 96-seat restaurant with a bar and apartments on a upper floor. A conditional use permit (in addition to state permits) would be required to operate the building, but Dodier did not attend DRB meetings or provide requested information so the board denied the application.And the building stands unfinished and unused.

At that time, he was asked whether the town will consider changing the process of allowing building permits to be issued before conditional use permits. Normyle replied, “This was a unique situation and I can assure you that the zoning administrator has learned his lesson and will not be issuing another building permit before a conditional use permit.”

“What can we do about this?” Chase asked Pisha during the Select Board meeting.

“We’ll look into it and send you a memo,” said Pisha, noting the town attorney Jim Carroll had been consulted but that he was busy on another matter.

Normyle has been Chester’s zoning administrator since 2010.

The Stewarts were approached for comment but declined.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: ChesterFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (5)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Barre Pinske says:

    I have strong opinions too but I for one want to be a part of a greater community where we help each other succeed and enrich each others’ lives.

    Yes there are rules and we need to play by them. Elm Street is a perfect place for a kennel and the heart feltmeaning behind it is very heart warming. Obviously we have a chance to express our opinions.

    Marilyn expressed concern about Elm Street at the open forum for the new Village Center Plan. I was a bit perplexed by her perspective. It’s an industrial/business area. It’s never going to be a charming part of town. If you want to live next to something beautiful it would be best to move to a place that is already beautiful and protect it rather than try change something that isn’t now and never will be.

    I can’t stand living in the Depot this time of year: The banging of the truck gates dumping sand at 7 a.m. is enough to to make a person unhinged.

    I’m here to make a living, not to live a peaceful life! We need to compromise if we can’t afford a ton of acreage or a gated community residence.

  2. Randy Miles says:

    Business in Chester should be welcome! Business in our town is under attack by a very small group of people. This group does not want new business or want older ones to grow. We have a great town with lots of traffic that comes through it every day, traffic that is not going away ever.

    This traffic goes to other towns to buy goods and spend money in those towns! Chester should be mindful of its village but welcome new business in the outer ring of the villages. Business provides many benefits for the people in town, and should not be looked at like it is a bad thing and, in some cases, evil.

    A healthy town needs to have a good mix of business and support. We as humans are driven to grow and move forward. It is who we are and always will be. Support and welcome business in our town.

  3. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Thanks for writing Hannah and Russ,

    We’re happy to correct an error when we make one or clarify an unclear statement.

    Looking back at the article in question, The Chester Telegraph stands behind it, which is based on 1. reporting of the meetings; 2. the town zoning laws; 3. approved minutes of the meetings; and 4. the issued permit.

    Under current zoning laws, the property is zoned for a vet clinic, which could include “short-term boarding incidental to animal medical services.” The property is not zoned for a standalone kennel, although it could be if changes to the zoning laws are eventually adopted.

    And finally, the focus of the article is on the action of the Chester zoning administrator, as reflected in the many times he was mentioned, the interview with him, a reference to a similar action by the zoning administrator (Jack’s Diner) and the headline ‘Chester zoning administrator’s action questioned.’

  4. Russ & Hannah Monier says:

    What an inaccurate and disheartening story you have shared. Shortly after we lost our house on March 6, 2015, mourning the loss of home, cats and our beloved Labrador Gus, I mentioned to my husband what if we opened a kennel in that spot? Of course we needed to focus on rebuilding a home and getting our lives back to normal. When the Stewarts approached us about their idea of a kennel “Gussie’s Place,” we were elated!

    The property on Elm Street that they bought from us is zoned for nearly everything. It is zoned for a veterinarian clinic as well. All of the other properties in town that are zoned for veterinarian clinics include kennel. The town of Chester acknowledges that it was an oversight to not include kennel on our former property.

    Jerry and Gail Stewart are very aware that their building permit nailed to the tree on Elm Street right now, is for storage.

    The Stewarts did not ask the planning commission to move their request along to the Select Board. They asked if their kennel request could be separated from the document and moved separately. The Stewarts were told that it is not an option, and they clearly understand that.

    The Stewarts have every right to build a building on their property to store things. Marilyn Mahusky likely would not approve any business on our former property.
    Marilyn’s residence does not view our former property. Elm Street is very much a commercial street with Vermont Foam Insulation, Benny’s Garage, the state garage, the Framery, Suburban Propane, and Vermont T’s, all thriving, offering jobs, and creating revenue.

    I recall my grandfather sharing with me about how thriving Elm Street was back in the day. Our house was one of the few on the street. Elm Street was lined with freight, cattle yards, lumber, logs, mills etc.

    We find Marilyn’s actions against the Stewarts’ lovely project to be harassment, and disheartening. The Stewarts are longtime residents in this town that have always given back to the town.

    Russ and Hannah Monier

  5. Penny Cote says:

    Why do we crucify people who are trying to do business in our town? We all love our animals to be treated well. This is on a back street. Leave them alone is my opinion. But who am I?