Editorial: To avoid problems, Chester should invest in planning

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Town Manager David Pisha told Chester’s Town Meeting in March that two functions of town government have become increasingly complex and would be better handled by professionals. Pisha pointed especially to the function of listers, saying that state statutes have made the work more complex over the years.

Residents agreed and voted to eliminate the posts of local auditors and listers, and to professionalize those functions. But auditing and tax assessing are not the most complicated area that Vermont’s volunteer town boards have to handle. That would have to be land use – including planning and zoning. The statute for land use stretches to nearly 48,000 words – about 200 double-spaced pages.

How does that compare with other town functions?

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns puts out a 35 page Municipal Law Index that gives the legal citations covering questions that might come up in running a town government. Zoning and planning takes up four and a half pages – far more than any other subject.

On July 17, newly appointed members of the Planning Commission Tim Roper and Barre Pinske will wade into this complex thicket. Roper is in sales for a solar power developer while Pinske is a chainsaw carver and artist. They will join planning commission members Naomi Johnson and Claudio Veliz. While Johnson is an engineer and Veliz an architect, no member of the commission is a planner.

Chester’s crazy quilt zoning district map.

These four — the Select Board did not fill the fifth position on the commission — will have to work with that volume of state laws and a zoning code dating to the mid-1970s without the knowledge and experience that a professional town planner could bring to the table. Chester’s crazy quilt zoning district map is a result of this approach. A planner could help the commission avoid many of the errors and problems that characterized its recent work and assure residents that the results are aimed at making Chester better for everyone and that they adhere to best practices and state statutes.

In the hearings on the recent amending of the Unified Development Bylaws, many people stressed the importance of planning and zoning. Isn’t it time the town made an investment in its future by funding a consultant to help the volunteer planning commission get its work right on the first try?

To pay for this, Chester can use a small portion of its economic development fund, which was originally designed to lend money to local businesses for capital improvements. Over the years, it has been underused and it even lost money on a bad loan. The fund is worth more than $300,000 and is invested for growth.

At a recent meeting of the Select Board, several members cautioned against taking money from Chester Development Fund for “non-traditional purposes.” We agree. In the past few years – in the name of economic development – the Select B0oard has drawn more than $31,000 from the fund to pay for paving and striping parking spaces on the Green and $10,000 for an ill-fated town website. The former was a good idea, the latter not so.

A well-thought-out Town Plan and common sense zoning regulations would be a powerful tools in making Chester more attractive to visitors, to new residents and to a range of businesses. What would make more sense than taking a small portion of the economic development fund to reach that goal?


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  1. Larry Semones says:

    Tim, I agree with your comments and approach. Since the editorial didn’t show an author I assumed it was opinion from Shawn or Cynthia.

  2. mike leclair says:

    Have you noticed that we are and have been for sometime living in a beautiful Vt. town With that thought in mind I would suggest that many talented people have done an excellent job over an extended period of time without the additional expense of another expert. I think we have common sense people on our select board as well as other positions representing us in town government and they will no doubt seek expert advice when needed. Also,I feel we should use our development funds for it’s intended purpose. Members of the select board have already cautioned the town on this issue.I vote for common sense. Thank you Chester select board.
    P.S. I have not expressed an expert opinions on these issues.

  3. Tim Roper says:

    I’m not sure what to make of this unsigned writing. Is it suggesting that we local folks are simply not capable enough to use common sense and our combined life experience to help make Chester a better place for everyone? It seems logical to me that as citizens of the town we’re working to improve, using the established state guidelines, listening to and considering the viewpoints of our fellow Chester residents, we will be successful in our work. It would be nice to know we had some support in this effort, but I guess throwing darts is easier and maybe more fun as well.

    See you on the 17th?