Chester board finds itself in a DRB dustup

By Shawn Cunningham
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Chester’s planning and zoning functions continue to be problematic even after the adoption of “pro-business” changes to the Unified Development Bylaws earlier this year.

Select Board member Dan Cote, far right, objects to the board moving to other business. Photo and cover by SAPA-TV.

Front2Back Landscaping owner Randy Miles complained to the Select Board at its June 14 meeting that the Development Review Board had denied his application. But he was told that was not correct.

During public comment at the beginning of the meeting, Miles said that zoning administrator Michael Normyle had told him that his application to operate a wood processor at his landscaping supply yard on Rt. 103 South near the Rockingham line would be denied by the DRB.  But board chair Arne Jonynas said he had spoken with the DRB chair an hour earlier and that a decision had not been reached.

“The deliberative session isn’t done,” said Executive Assistant Julie Hance.

Jonynas said he didn’t think it was appropriate for Normyle to say this to Miles nor would it be appropriate to discuss the ongoing process while the deliberative sessions are still going on. According to meeting minutes, the DRB closed the conditional use hearing on May 22 and by law has 45 days to render a decision.

Miles stated that he and his wife Mary Jane had provided the DRB with sound readings that were questioned by members of that board. Miles added that he thought the town should buy a decibel meter for such purposes.

Jonynas was about to move on to the next agenda item when board member Dan Cote said, “Whoa, whoa. We’re not going to ignore this.”

Cote said that business people should not have to wait three years for three boards to come to a decision that affects their businesses. “This is a serious problem … it’s not just a little problem,” said Cote, thumping the table. Cote later said that he was getting the three-year number from Miles. In fact, Miles told The Telegraph he began the process in August 2015 and called each of the summer landscaping seasons of 2015, 2016 and 2017 a “year.” In 2015, Miles found that his property was not zoned for firewood processing in the Unified Development Bylaws that took effect in October 2014. The Mileses worked at getting the wood processing conditional use included in the revised UDBs that became effective this past April and had hearings for a permit on May 8 and May 22.

Jonynas said that the board would not discuss something that had not been warned on the agenda, saying that the board could look at scheduling a discussion.

Randy Miles asks how to lodge a complaint about a DRB member. Photos by Shawn Cunningham unless otherwise noted.

Miles also asked how to go about “making charges” against a DRB member who he said was operating from personal beliefs rather than strictly by the zoning law.  Hance told Miles that he should send a complaint to Town Manager David Pisha, who would bring it to the board and to the town’s attorney.

The issue returned at the end of the meeting when a very animated Cote said that by not discussing the problem and letting Miles and other business people leave the meeting without answers, “This whole town recognizes that we don’t give a damn.”

Jonynas and board member Heather Chase protested this characterization. But Cote persisted, saying he was trying to get a rise out of the board. “Now that I have your attention,” said Cote, which did not go over well with Jonynas and Chase.

“This discussion is not happening here tonight,” said Jonynas. “It’s going to be an agenda item and we are going to discuss it then.” The board will take up Cote’s concerns at its next meeting, Wednesday, July 5.

Seeking two grants for town

Executive assistant Julie Hance explains the two grant opportunities

The board voted to allow Hance to apply for two grants. One grant, from VTrans and the federal government, would fund a project in the VTrans sponsored Village Center Master Planning.

The work would cover the Depot Street area from Town Hall south to Bargefrede Road and involve sidewalk construction, reducing the grade of the sidewalk by Barre Pinske’s studio, installing green space between the sidewalk and street and adding pedestrian scale street lamps. The idea is to lead people from Depot Street to the Green.

The grant would also make it possible to rework the difficult intersections of Depot with Maple streets and Coach Road with First Avenue and Depot Street.  The cost of the work would be $1.2 million with Chester required to match 20 percent of the cost.

Master Plan Steering Committee member Kelly Arrison speaks in favor of the Bike/Ped grant.

Master Plan Steering Committee member Kelly Arrison told the board that the timing of the grant was especially good and that it could fulfill a lot of the goals of the plan. “It’s a really good project at a really good price,” said Arrison noting that the new lamps would make it possible to remove the LED lights and improve the aesthetics of Depot Street.

Jonynas agreed, saying “the timing couldn’t be better.”

The second grant — a state “grant-in-aid pilot program” — is for towns to begin work that will bring them into compliance Act 64, the state’s clean water statute. Among other things, the statute requires that towns with roads with a grade greater than 5 percent that drain water into ponds, lakes and rivers, need to take steps to reduce erosion runoff. This includes lining ditches with stone. Chester has 55 miles of such roads, making it expensive to bring the town into compliance.

“If every town participates, Chester will get about $21,000 to work on town roads,” said Hance explaining that if fewer towns participate, that number will go up. Like the bike/ped grant, this requires a 20 percent match, but that can be done through in-kind matches of labor.

Emergency building feasibility study

The board also approved a $23,000 feasibility study into the possibilities of a new buildings for the Fire and Police Departments, Ambulance service and Highway Department. Chester architect Claudio Veliz, who also sits on the Planning Commission, and his firm will conduct the study.

The study was originally supposed to look at space solutions for Fire, Ambulance and Highway, but following a discussion with Police Chief Rick Cloud, Veliz suggested adding the Police to the study.

And the board OK’d a Chester Snowmobile Club request to work on Wyman’s Falls Road. The work had been approved a few years back, but the club had not been able to do it then.

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  1. MJ Miles says:

    With regard to the Select Board meeting I feel I need to add the following that was discussed and should be public knowledge:
    1) The town has had decibel requirements in the UDB’s since 2014.
    2) The town DRB members are tasked with understanding and mitigating results and enforcement. We suggested that the town communicate with other municipalities that have sound regulations to determine what is a standard and create a plan for the town to properly mitigate this requirement in a practical way.
    3) The town should have a decibel meter reading device. How else are we to enforce our rules and regulations. Enforcement has not been the towns strong point in the past.
    4) The idea of expecting applicants to engage in costly engineered sound reports is not necessary and I believe you will not find this to be the standard of practice among other municipalities but given we have had this regulation since 2014 and not yet even explored this is very concerning to us.
    All we are requesting is a common sense approach by the DRB board to be consistent with all applicants in a knowledgeable way. We believe this is what is required of any member that sits on that board. Our experiences, not only with our own application but in sitting at other applicants permit hearings is that consistency and validation equally is not happening.
    Expectations of moving your business to other locations in town should not even be an appropriate suggestion. We expect professionalism and education from DRB members as they would expect us to educate ourselves on what we need to present. We are asking the same of them. I do not feel this is an out of the ordinary expectation.
    Given that the Select Board members appoint DRB members and the differences in culture between what is stated by the select board and what is practiced by other boards is not in line with each other it sends a message of conflict. Have we not had enough of this?

  2. Claudio Veliz says:

    Just one correction: it was not my suggestion to include the police department, but rather in response to the request by Chief Cloud who indicated he was unaware the process was already in motion.

    It was perfectly fine by me, and I then suggested he and I take this up with the town manager, just to ensure the town would approve the addition of that department.(it did).

    My co-architect, Robert Buchan, and I reviewed the scope of work implications and elected to cap the projected fee at the original figure, anyway. The study is now underway.