Chester board continues hearing comments on UDBs

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With two members not able to attend the Feb. 15 meeting, the Chester Select Board continued to hear comments on the Unified Development Bylaws in a public hearing, but in its regular meeting, did not take on anything of consequence, including a procedure for appointing public officials.

While the bylaws hearing was supposed to continue looking at Article 2 and begin Article 3, the board briefly returned to Article 1 to hear from Lillian Willis of the Chester Historic Preservation Committee, who asked for changes that would give greater recognition to the historic resources of the town by breaking it apart from the environmental statement and allowing each to stand on its own. Nena Nanfeldt of the Chester Conservation Committee said the organization supported the change.

Amy O’Neil recounts the changes that have take place in the zoning of her property. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Amy O’Neil, owner of Gold River Industrial Park and a member of Chester Development Review Board, recalled that the original bylaws – which were adopted in 2014 – eliminated building and construction trades from the zoning districts in which her business is located, thus making it non-conforming. She also noted that all of the parcels in the industrial park are in two districts and the way that differences are looked at was made more restrictive in 2014. The bottom line for O’Neil is that she has people interested in buying parcels within the park, but the lack of conditional uses for their businesses are hindering the sales.

J&L Metrology owner Peter Klepp tells the board how a zoning snafu has kept his company from moving into the armory.

Peter Klepp, owner of J&L Metrology in Springfield and the former Army Reserve Center on Route 11, told the board that due to an error in the Planning Commission’s work on the 2014 bylaws, the armory building already exceeds the maximum lot coverage of 10 percent and, since the zoning district was new, no sign specifications were written for it.

Klepp said that he can’t reconfigure the interior of the building because he can’t put up a temporary building to house the contents during construction. He said this has hampered him from moving the business to Chester.

Maureen Savage tells the board that the 2014 Unified Development Bylaws took away conditional uses making the newly rehabbed National Survey Building more difficult to rent.

Maureen Savage told the board that when she and her husband bought the National Survey building on Canal Street, it was in the Aquifer Protection 1 district and light industrial was a conditional use. The 2014 bylaws eliminated that district and that use. The building is now in the Village Center district and although it has been rehabbed, prospective tenants can’t get conditional use permits.

Barre Pinske told the board that some who oppose the bylaws do so on the grounds of preserving the rural character of the area. Pinske saw this as ironic since farming is now a huge industrial use. He also noted that since Vermont is the No. 1  state for use of wood heat, firewood processing is a necessity. Pinske called for equal rights for log splitters and dump trucks.

Marilyn Mahusky renews her call to use zoning map overlays rather than adding uses to entire districts.

Marilyn Mahusky told the board that these were compelling stories of the individual needs of people who have invested time and energy and money. “And I respect that,” said Mahusky. But she also noted that the Planning Commission is not the “economic development planning commission.”

Mahusky said that many of the changes to the bylaws were a result of individual requests and that state law prohibits changing zoning for an individual. She noted that making a change to a zoning district for one person changes the entire district and suggested that zoning overlays be considered to accommodate the needs of businesses.

“You have a civic responsibility to do the right thing,” said Mahusky, “That’s your job, making the hard decisions.”

“I’m all about trying to fix the problem, not kick it down the road,” said board member Dan Cote. “I’m about changing so everyone is happy. We are literally dug in on two sides.”

Development Review Board chair Carla Westine told the board that the changes have gone far beyond the clarifications and corrections that were requested in early 2015. Nevertheless, Westine urged the board to adopt the changes because the DRB would be able to protect against problems by applying the various standards – including sound limits – in the bylaws.

Cote asked Westine how the process could move faster. Westine said it couldn’t.

“I think approving this document is important. Two years is a long time,” said board member Arne Jonynas. “I don’t see sending it back.”

In other business

After the public hearing, the Select Board met Police Chief Rick Cloud’s dog Dutch who is about to begin training as a police dog. The board asked questions about his duties and the cost to the town. Cloud told the board that Dutch is his dog and that the cost to the town will be minimal.

The board put off working on the procedure for interviewing and appointing town officials, but Library Board of Trustees chair Kathy Pellett told the Select Board that there is a vacancy on the library’s board and that Stephanie Whitney-Payne has expressed interest in serving. Pellett noted that the new procedures had not been adopted yet and asked the board to appoint Whitney-Payne in the same way it had filled vacancies in the past. The board decided not to decide.

“It’s not in the spirit of what we’re doing,” said Cote.

To move the Unified Development Bylaws along a bit faster, the next regular meeting – on March 1 – will have three or four hours devoted specifically to looking at and hearing comment on the new regulations.

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  1. Randy Miles says:

    I wish to take the time to ask everyone reading all of the input for or against the new UDBs to attend tonight’s Select Board meeting at 7 p.m. and have your voice heard! A lot of time and hard work has been put forth.

    A large number of businesses have sat idle for too long costing them the ability to run theire business as they have done for years as well as the money side of it.

    I have read the new zoning by laws and do not see anything that would be a major change or hurt out town. My hope is that the Select Board looks at this the same and takes the stand to move the new UDBs forward. A direction and tone needs to be set and acted on to support the business in Chester or support the bedroom community notion and hope it may be one the town could wake up from some day.

    There is no mistaking the majority of residents are in favor of moving forward. So please if you have something new to say for or against show up tonight and have your say. Last I would like to remind people that there are a lot of upcoming positions that will be open for the Planning Commission, Development Review Board and the Select Board.

    All are very important to the direction the town of Chester will head. I encourage anyone who is open-minded and impartial to look in to one of these positions and get involved now.

  2. MJ Miles says:

    Having been part of this process for now nearly 3 years. The process is not to go to the DRB it was to start at the planning commission and move to the select board. The DRB wants detailed zoning regulations to work with to make the job of conditional use clear they have no authority to change zoning. The UDB’s have not been rushed but spent three years being processed, and carved out through the channels that are defined in this town and through the steps that have been required. There is a group in town that waited until the last 9 months to stop the process because as the Aleks has noted they want a bedroom community and try to represent these people as individuals with individual wants and needs when in fact, their zoning was taken away in 2014 and they want it returned. The process has been followed the DRB follows the zoning regulations they do not make them.

  3. Aleks Hunter says:

    The town should move forward and pass the UDBs.

    As the article shows, the stuck-in-the mud version in place now is costing the town good jobs, and hamstringing property owners who are still paying (often) commercial property taxes on investment properties from which they cannot derive income to offset those taxes.

    Working to become a bedroom community is not an option if we hope to thrive as a town. It is how to engineer poverty. In order to grow and be able to afford so many of the niceties that people in Chester have demonstrated to value through their votes to fund year after year, we must attract new and talented people from elsewhere who will become the drivers of the economy going forward.

    The lifelong population here is aging. The infrastructure here is challenging. And the anti business sentiment held by a small, but vocal minority turns prospective commercial buyers away before they even come here for a first-hand look.
    Anyone who has raised children in town over the last quarter century knows that the good jobs for kids as they come of age are simply not here, but elsewhere.

    This is a fact, one which is an impediment to attracting businesses that would hire skilled/professional workers. Every year, kids graduate GMUHS, and almost immediately, the best and the brightest leave and very few ever return. There are simply no educational opportunities coupled with a shortage of jobs that pay a living wage with adequate benefits. Both of those are found elsewhere. This exodus of talent leaves Chester perpetually with a next generation stripped clean of its best and brightest.

    Driving around town in warm weather it is clear that population of 20-somethings whose greatest talent appears to be holding down porch step treads while simultaneously drinking a beer is increasing.

    Instead of focusing on all the things that the vocal few want to ban, why not instead actively promote the things that make the Vermont countryside the great place it can be? Why not be open to responsible, successful people who want to relocate to our beautiful countryside and engage in creative, profitable endeavors? Concerns about noise and traffic are valid. But most of the traffic in town now is not local, but thru-traffic. Due to Chester’s location, that traffic is always going to be present, and will increase over time whether the vocal minority like it or not.

    Coffee houses, kwikee marts and bric-a-brac and bookshops are nice amenities for any town, but they alone cannot sustain a vibrant community. We need businesses that make things, businesses that add value to the natural resources that far more often than not are shipped out by the tractor-trailer or rail-car load with zero local value added. As an example, we have an abundant supply of some of the finest hardwoods on Earth here and the lion’s share is shipped out.

    That is what third world countries do. They ship out unprocessed natural resources with no local value added. If third world community lifestyle is the goal, Chester is on the right track. Yes, in fabrication businesses, noise is inevitable, but it can be mitigated and often altogether eradicated via technical solutions.

    The question for the town is, do we want to leverage the inevitable traffic or complain about it to the detriment of people like Peter Klepp et al who want to help build a sustainable future for our beautiful town? I live on a state highway and noisy trucks go by at all hours. I’m not a fan. But you know what? White noise generators put a hell of a dent in that traffic noise. Currently the town’s economy is insufficient to create enough jobs that pay well and provide benefits even on a par with what the town provides its own employees to lure new homeowners. What will a growing population of underemployed under-educated 20-somethings do for the sustainability of the town? The current zoning is an artificial construct with well-demonstrated flaws. Fix it!

    Making “yes” the default answer when someone wants to start a business and presents a reasonable business plan that includes actual hiring is a good start to curing the towns ongoing economic malaise. Let’s be a little more flexible when people submit well-crafted applications for conditional use permits. We are already property taxed near the high end of the scale nationwide. To add insult to that injury, the sales of real estate in town has trended way below the appraised values for years, meaning that we are additionally overtaxed based on real market values.

    Housing maintenance and energy costs are likewise at the high end of the scale nationwide due to our climate. The town can become business friendly and thrive, or it will wither and die a slow death as property values continue their downward spiral and what jobs that remain vanish. Let’s let Chester become a place where creative people can work again.

  4. Tim Roper says:

    I appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into writing the current draft of the UDB document, but let’s not rush to vote this into law simply because it has taken two years to get it to this point. There are some significant issues with the draft as it stands and these should be corrected.

    1. That the Gold River Industrial Park straddles two different zoning districts. That seems like a simple thing to fix and it certainly needs to be addressed.

    2. That light industry has limited or no options to exist without receiving a variance under the current draft. We will ALL benefit from adding good, low-impact jobs to our town. The alternative is to turn good people away, or drive them into lives of despair, which often leads to welfare or into the world of crime, drugs and in far too many cases, prison. Chester citizens deserve better choices.

    3. That under the current draft, Chester residents are not permitted to run a business from their home if it’s classified as being a construction trade. That was not the case in the original document and has never been the case in the past. Do we really want to push our hard working, productive tradespeople out of town?

    I ask the Select Board to please request the DRB to correct these items before voting the new UDBs into law, If you agree, please add your voice here, as well as with a letter to the Select Board, and by standing up and speaking out at Town Meeting on March 6th.