To the editor: ‘Main Street USA’ in Chester is a fantasy world

There’s a movement afoot in Chester that seems intent upon driving the gentrification of our town. A small, but vocal and well-healed minority is attempting to drive their agenda of making Chester into a sort of “Main Street USA” fantasy world.

This group is now working to rewrite our zoning laws to include regulations that amount to banishment of the hard working independent tradespeople who run businesses from their homes. Apparently, seeing trucks, vans and equipment trailers passing through their quiet part of Chester is offensive and they just don’t want to see them any longer. These folks are intent upon stopping that unsightly traffic and they don’t mind at all if doing so denies others the ability to make an honest living by running a small business from their own Chester homes.

Where am I getting this impression? It’s pretty clearly laid out in the proposed changes to the Unified Development Bylaws, or UDBs, which you can see on the Town of Chester website. Under the proposed changes, the construction trades, which include everything from a mom and pop electrical company, right down to a property manager with a plow and a commercial mower, will no longer be permitted in any zoning district without applying for and receiving a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board. That has never been the case before.

Chester is a living community, encompassing good people from all walks of life. We include the carpenters, electricians, plumbers and property managers, who need vehicles and equipment for their work, as well as the accountants, computer scientists, lawyers and brokers who undoubtedly do some work from their homes as well, but without needing a truck, van or trailer in order to do it.

I’m sure that no one objects to seeing an electrician’s van rolling up their road if their lights won’t come on because of an electrical issue, and no one minds seeing a backhoe being towed behind a dump truck when their own septic system is backed up and needs repair. So why try to move them out of town? The attempt to push our entrepreneurial, working trade-folk out of sight is simply not OK with me. If you agree that everyone needs to be included in our new Town Plan, please let our Select Board hear from you with a letter, an email, or by raising your voice at town meeting on March 6. Chester’s hard-working trades-folk need our help.

Tim Roper

P.S. My impression is that the majority of this elitist group is “from away,” as am I. A key difference between us is that I was taught, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and I respect the fact that Chester is not mine to mold into some ideal, utopic place that meets my perfect image of small town Vermont.

In every zoning district: What will Chester become? Chester for the elite? Who belongs in Chester?

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  1. American Dream! Build it and they will come, that’s what we said 23 years ago at Knockout Carpet Inc. Involving all the home business of Chester made this possible for us and we will never forget it!

    From the excavating to concrete from electrical to plumbing. Talking to them on how they succeeded in this tough place to make living is what we have been doing ever since.

    No one gets rich owning and operating a home business. If anything, we make far less, because we look into the eyes of all the people who helped us and live here and want to return the favor to help them, their kids and parents.

    Making sure all our neighbors were happy with change, seeing them at the hearing and hearing them say yes to a new home business 23 years ago made us cry as a family, knowing they welcomed us and wanted us to fulfill our American dream.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I am embarrassed by the postings here. It’s become normal to have opposing views and ridiculous comments made in responses to internet postings but the blame, misunderstanding and merging of opposing views is just ignorant.

    Let’s be clear: The new bylaws are supported by the local business owners! Yes, the loggers and the construction people want it to pass. They have been at meetings and speaking up for months. Just because it’s new, does not make it bad. It was done in part with making things better for business by being more inclusive than the last revision.

    Dan Cote is in favor of helping local business. He stated he was shocked there was such a hold up. I am so sick of the local verses flatlander BS. It is pure stupidity. It’s an ignorant stereotype that separates people. I bought a 106 year old building here and feel I fit in just fine with my wood pile and sawdust.

    I have made many friends with locals and people new to town. I grew up on nearly the same latitude in Minnesota as I’m on here. I have lived in many places, received an education and traveled. I think those are good qualities. I have been exposed to many things and feel I am a well-rounded person. If Chester was such a great place and the locals had their shit together, their kids would stay here, buy properties and raise a family here.

    Much of the country is doing well. Our property values are in the toilet and there are few good paying jobs. Like it or not, we are in this together. Local culture and greater prosperity can come to us all.

    If you want to take a side, do your homework to know what you are talking about because you could be playing into the hand of your opponent without even knowing it. My friend Tim, who I consider to be on my team, just picked up the ball and ran to the wrong goal line. People are cheering for him because he got the ball. You need to realize he’s running the wrong way and scoring for the other team. I don’t think I can say it any clearer. Again do your home work.

  3. Ron Patch says:

    Vermont is well known for being anti-business and Chester seems to now be at the top of the list.

    Tourists don’t come to Chester because it’s a unique place; they come to Chester on Route 103, which is a main artery into Vermont from I-91. It’s always has been this way and always will be. If Route 103 ran through Springfield or Bellows Falls, there would be no benefit to those towns either.

    These flatlanders who settled here in recent years want to keep the postcard image of Chester that they envision. Chester is a workingman’s town where people work for a living. To try and stop firewood operations or other forms of businesses the elite look down on only drives the wedge deeper creating an ‘us vs them’ scenario.

    I have never seen Chester lower than it is today. Why did you move to Chester if you dislike it so much? Most of us are happy with the way it was/is.

    I’ve known Kelly Arrison for 45 years. If he is elected to the Select Board, he and Dan Cote will ruin this town. Vote for anyone but Arrison!

  4. Diana Ashworth says:

    As one of my friends said, “I think the writer is overreacting. It doesn’t say it’s NOT allowed, it just says they have to get a permit. That way there is SOME control so you don’t end up with someone with an entire fleet of trucks squeezed onto a small property next door to your quiet village home.”

    I say it is important to protect the special place that is Chester. Most of the town’s money comes from tourism. Tourists don’t go to Bellows Falls or Springfield. They come to Chester because it is quaint. A trip to Connecticut or Massachusetts is a good object lesson on what a gem we have in Chester.

    We are different from where the majority of other people come from. That’s what I love about living here. It’s a patch of quiet and peace in a hectic world. No one wants to do away with a home business. I do think our efforts should be turned toward bringing jobs here. We’ve had clean, well-paying jobs here before – like Green Mountain Gringo. We need to find more jobs like that for our community and find ways to keep them here.

  5. Carla Westine says:

    There seems to be some confusion related to “Home Business,” “Home Occupation” and “Building and Construction Trades,” and how all these terms apply to the proposed changes to the UDBs now being considered by the Select Board.

    “Home Business” is defined by the UDBs as “Any small business carried on by family members in a minor portion of the dwelling or in an accessory building, with no more than four on-premise employees who are not part of the family in accordance with section 3.12 of these Bylaws.” Currently, “Home Business” is a conditional use in all districts except Forestry (F) District, and requires DRB (Development Review Board) review. There is no change being proposed in the revised UDBs now being considered by the Select Board.

    “Home Occupation” is defined by the UDBs as “Any use conducted entirely within a dwelling or accessory building and carried on by the occupants thereof, which use is clearly incidental and secondary to the use of the dwelling for dwelling purposes, does not change the character thereof, and does not have an undue adverse effect upon the character of the residential area in which the dwelling is located.” It is further defined in Section 3.11., “Home Occupation”, and is currently a permitted use in all districts except Forestry (F) District. A permitted use means you only need to stop in and see the zoning administrator to receive your permit- no DRB review. There is no change being proposed in the revised UDBs now being considered by the Select Board. “Home Occupation” covers the mom and pop, or the businessperson who works out of his/her home.

    “Building and Construction Trades” is defined by the UDBs – “Includes, but not limited to, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, painting, masonry, roofing and foundations.” “Building and Construction Trades” although defined, is currently not allowed in any district in Chester. This means that if you are operating out of your dwelling or garage, you may not have more than four employees, because if you do, you no longer qualify as a “Home Business” or “Home Occupation.” It also means that if you want to buy a piece of property to operate your business out of, and it is not also your dwelling, there is no district in Chester in which you may do that. There is currently no district in Chester where you may operate a business where you can park construction related equipment or store supplies outside- for if you do, you no longer meet the requirements of “Home Business” or “Home Occupation” which must be “entirely within the dwelling or accessory building.” The change being proposed in the revised UDBs adds “Building and Construction Trades” back in to all districts as a conditional use.

    UDBs, DRBs, current, proposed, revised… it all gets very confusing! If you need more clarification, please attend the next special Select Board meeting and ask questions.

  6. Marilyn Mahusky says:


    You are correct that the proposed changes to the UDBs, if approved by the Select Board, will require “Building and Construction Trades” to apply for conditional use permits in every zoning district and obtain approval by the Development Review Board prior to operation.

    “Building and construction trades” include a variety of trades, including painters, plumbers and electricians. Currently, many building and construction tradespeople operate as home business or home occupations, neither of which require anything more than a building permit by the zoning administrator.

    The Planning Commission has imposed this unnecessary requirement without offering any justification for the change. Before enacting this sweeping change to the bylaws, either the Planning Commission or the Select Board needs to explain why the hardworking building and construction trades require conditional use permits. As you pointed out, most people work out of their homes, operate a truck or two, and provide a necessary service.

    I disagree, however, with the characterization that this change to the zoning bylaws is sought by a “small, but vocal and well-heeled minority.” In fact, the change is sought by the Planning Commission and the Development Review Board – many if not most of whom are long-time Chester residents, or are folks who have a business interest in Chester.

    I think it’s important to remember that the purpose of zoning is not to “gentrify” a community or turn it into a “fantasy land,” but to regulate land use for the benefit of the entire community, and not just for a handful of vocal community members on either side of the debate. If you are opposed to this proposed change, by all means, show up for the next public hearing or write a letter to the Select Board. You are not alone in opposing the changes to the proposed UDBs.

    Finally, I couldn’t agree more with Sue’s comment about the abandoned vehicles, stacks of tires, and piles of junk. Unfortunately, although there may be laws on the books addressing this kind of blight, Chester does little, if anything, to enforce the law. This lack of enforcement has nothing to do with “elitists,” but with a lack of leadership and vision for the future.

  7. Lynn Baldwin says:

    Great letter Tim! The bigger picture is that Smart Growth zoning plans are designed to further control “the servant classes” to preserve the picturesqueness of Vermont for the new gentry. Chester has become such an unfriendly town over the last 25 years. I’m much happier in Ludlow where there is still a strong “townie” presence. Much friendlier place.

    Lynn Baldwin

  8. Mark Green says:

    I have never lived in Chester but have had a fond connection to the town for over 50 years. It is a shame that a few people, that in my opinion probably are transplants, want to take away someone’s ability to make a living because they need to work out of their homes and they don’t like what they have to drive in order to do that. It seems the Vermont and small towns that I grew up in are slowly being eroded away by some so-called Vermonters aka flatlanders, who want to change our way of life. Like Mr. Bliss said, it’s time for the people of Chester to stand up for what they believe in and not leave it to someone else to do because as the old saying goes the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

  9. J Gomez says:

    To all you Chester natives who love your town the way it is/was. … remember this when you go to the polls next month.
    Stand together.

  10. Barbara M Crawford says:

    Wow Tim!
    Thanks for bringing this insanity to our attention! As the wife of an electrician (who between his father and him have been in business for over 50 years!) I am disgusted by these short sighted fools! I suppose if all the contractors are enlightened as to who these folks are and suggest to them that no trades people will darken their “enlightened” doorsteps, they might get the message?
    What did they do in their previous home towns when their pump quit working, they needed a new fixture, they wanted an addition…? GOOD GRIEF~GO AWAY!!!!

  11. Rick Bliss says:

    Im 3rd generation in this town and I agree 100% and then some. We need hometowners to start standing up to these people. We need to take our town back and keep it. Too many have been silent for to long.

  12. Tom Charlton says:

    Thanks Tim.

    There’s not much point in a community or a person looking good and having no soul.

    There once was and still is more to Vermont than looking quaint. In fact, any clan that’s spent a handful of generations here scratching a living out of these hills will tell you that the word ‘quaint’ didn’t cross our minds much when there was hay to get in, wood to cut or snow to move.

    I would think that if we were to be more concerned for our neighbors and less about the view that neither would present much of a problem.

  13. Sue Pollard says:

    Thank you for posting this. I couldn’t agree more with what you have stated. Why aren’t these same people worried about the properties all over Chester which seem to be able to ‘stockpile’ tires, broken down vehicles, various other pieces of junk? Surely, that must be an eyesore to them, as it certainly is to me, and I’ve lived in this town my whole life? We need to be Chester as it was and as it should be, not the Chester the ‘elitists’ want.

  14. Larry Semones says:

    Thanks Tim,for stating what many of us less vocal residents feel. The beauty of rural America is anticipating what’s around the next corner. Yes, I believe Chester is rural America and doesn’t need to be a designer village.

  15. Kathy says:

    Dear Mr. Roper,

    I am the wife of a small business owner who makes his living renovating homes and restoring old structures. He’s a blue collar man who has pick ups and work vans, equipment trailers and a back hoe. Hubby’s the kind of guy you described in your letter.

    We also happen to be ‘from away’ as you disparagingly stated. Not once since arriving in Chester have we not used local businesses for supplies and local contractors for plumbing and electric. Neither one of us has ever complained about having business vehicles on private property because we do the same! Never have we suggested that Main St divest itself from people like ourselves in order become a façade for tourists.

    It is hypocritical stating that ‘Chester is a living community, encompassing good people from all walks of life,’ and then label a certain group ‘from away’ ‘elitist’ blaming them for the current situation. When you decide to segregate a particular group, you tend to sound elitist, too.

    If anything, people should be more upset with the newest corporate additions to Chester which are having a negative ripple effect on locally owned small businesses. Rolling into Chester and seeing a huge gas station where once an old, beautiful home stood signals: Roll on through, nothing to see until Ludlow.”

    Credit is given to those who are looking to maintain some form of economic viability within Chester, but it can not come at the price of alienating local business owners — whether they swing a hammer or sling hash.