Chester planners send bylaw revisions for approval over some objections

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chester resident Amy Mosher suggests a number of changes to the zoning bylaws at Monday night's meeting. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Chester resident Amy Mosher suggests a number of changes to the zoning bylaws at Monday night’s meeting. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

After nearly two years of work, the Chester Planning Commission voted – at the end of  Tuesday night’s public hearing – to send its revisions of the Unified Development Bylaws to the Chester Select Board for review. A number of residents and business owners spoke in favor of the move, while several others asked the commission to reconsider a number of changes.

After holding public hearings that are required by state statute, the Chester Select Board can adopt the revisions or send the document back to the Planning Commission with comments and suggestions.

The current bylaws were adopted in the fall of 2014. The commission had left out updates to the sign ordinance at that time intending to return to those regulations in the future. But as soon as the bylaws took effect, problems arose. These ran the gamut from typos and formatting errors to overlooking lot coverage and sign regulations that made the former Army Reserve Center on Route 11 difficult for its new owners – J&L Metrology – to expand and move to Chester from Springfield.

In January 2015, members of the Development Review Board, which interprets the bylaws for applicants, met with the planning commission to go over a list of things they would like to have fixed or clarified. Among these were fixes for the Armory and looking for districts to put conditional uses that were defined in the regulations, but not included in any zoning districts. These included uses, including heavy construction trades and manufacturing as well as mobile home parks and campgrounds.

The commission began work on sign regulations but also began making changes to the bylaws. And therein lay the controversy.

Several speakers, including commission members, acknowledged that almost everyone could agree on the vast majority of the changes, but there was deep disagreement on the advisability of adding a number of conditional uses to many zoning districts. Those in favor of more uses in more districts tended to label those who opposed them as “anti-business.”

On the other hand, some of those who questioned a number of conditional uses in residential districts spoke of  “spot zoning,” which is changing zoning for a specific land owner. In a letter to the board, DRB member Phil Perlah renewed his call to look more carefully at the districts, saying that they are too large and the range of uses too broad. Perlah favors the expansion of residential areas as a way to grow the grand list.

Marilyn Mahusky reads a letter to the board from Phil Perlah who was unable to attend

Marilyn Mahusky reads a letter to the board from Phil Perlah who was unable to attend

Saying that he has never asked the commission for special treatment, Randy Miles urged the board to move the regulations forward as a way of creating jobs. Miles, who would like to process firewood at his landscaping supply business on Route 103 South but has been unable to because the property is not currently zoned for that use, said he would like to create jobs.

“I’m not in it for myself,” said Miles. “I’m in it for the people.”

Several speakers who asked the commission not to send the bylaws on to the Select Board said that by state statute the regulations have to conform to the Town Plan. They argued that in adding a large number of uses to many districts, the commission never consulted the town plan nor a land-use map.

Land surveyor Gary Rapanotti said that he had appeared before the DRB many times and that it was the bylaws’ standards that are important as a protection. “Chester is tough,” said Rapanotti.

Saying that he is not anti-business, resident and business owner Kelly Arrison called for balance and respect in the discussion. He noted that town aesthetics and a sense of place are drivers of economic prosperity and said he believes that parts of the proposed bylaws could inhibit economic growth and degrade the quality of life in Chester.

“The best way to predict the future is to plan it yourself,” said Arrison. “Now is the exact right time to stand back and think.”

When all comments were heard, commission chair Tom Bock proposed giving the board some time to think over what had been said and to vote on sending the bylaws to the Select bBoard at the Jan. 16 meeting. Commission member Randy Wiggin pointed out that Bock, who is resigning to take a seat in the Vermont legislature, would not be at the next meeting.

“I don’t see where anything said should change anything,” said Wiggin.

Board member Tom Hildreth moved to send the bylaws to the Select Board with a second from Naomi Johnson and the group voted 4 to 1 in favor of the motion. According to Bock, the Select Board has 120 days from the time it receives the bylaws to hold a public hearing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: Business & Personal FinanceFeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.