Chester Planning Commission reboots with new members

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Barre Pinske, left, and Tim Roper attend their first Planning Commission meeting as members. Photo by Shawn Cunningham

Nearly five months after three resignations deprived it of a quorum, the Chester Planning Commission reorganized itself with four of its five seats filled on Monday, July 17.

Newly appointed members Barre Pinske and Tim Roper were welcomed by commission chair Naomi Johnson who worked through introductions, terms of office and annual reorganization of the board

Johnson then took up the process for recommending a zoning administrator to the Select Board for appointment. This was the topic that resulted in the resignation of Tom Hildreth, who objected to comments made about the performance of current zoning administrator Michael Normyle.

Johnson said it was her preference to take any public comments in writing and to do interviews in executive session.

Executive assistant Julie Hance confirmed that Jay Jurkovic – who had applied for the ZA position and was at the last commission meeting waiting to be interviewed – is still interested in the job. Pinske suggested that the town advertise for the position again and that would give the new members time to get up to speed. Pinske asked that public comments come to the board early enough for members to read them before the meeting and said that he would also prefer doing the interviews in executive session.

Chester resident Phil Perlah noted that the zoning administrator also aids the Development Review Board and that the commission might consider asking DRB chair Carla Westine to observe the interviews.

Johnson then explained the work done to date on the Town Plan and suggested that “rather than updating, we take a step back, include some public participation and see what we want to do this time.” She suggested looking at the Springfield Town Plan as an example.

Commission member Claudio Veliz suggested getting some input from the steering committee working on the Village Center Master Plan. Both he and Pinske are members of that group.

Pinske said the commission should look at the plans of towns that have similar problems and opportunities and that neighboring towns do not fit that mold. He suggested Cherokee, Ga., where “the arts have totally changed the town.”

Hance said that the zoning and planning philosophy of the town has changed little since this zoning code was first adopted in 1974.

“But zoning throughout the country has changed,” said Hance, adding that the town would be applying for a municipal planning grant to hire a planning firm to “audit” planning and zoning documents and hold vision sessions with the town’s boards and the public.

“Will the zoning you have get you where you want to go?” asked Hance, “We want people to live, work and play here and zoning is the basis of doing that.”

Hance went on to say that Town Manager David Pisha wants to make training available to all the boards, especially where there is as much law and theory as there is in planning. Saying that many jobs require a continuing education component, Hance said there are lots of resources available for free or at minimal costs to help members do the work while complying with state and regional requirements.

While Hance said that an overview of planning could be presented by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Pinske asked for a session on sound, which is an issue he and others have brought before the DRB recently. Hance said that the DRB would be getting training on interpreting sound results and that Pinske could attend those.

Roper said he would like a big picture overview of planning while Veliz asked for a session on small community transportation issues.

Pinske noted that several of his neighbors houses have been for sale since he moved to Chester nine years ago and wondered how to be successful at getting people to move here.

Hance said that marketing the town is not a function of the planning commission.

Under public comment, Perlah suggested taking a list of changes to the Unified Development Bylaws and looking at one each meeting, then sending it to the Select Board for adoption rather than sending a bunch all at the same time. Hance reminded the panel that each change suggested that way would trigger several public hearings that are required to change zoning regulations.

Johnson reminded the commission that the task at hand was not to work on the bylaws, but on the Town Plan.

Until recently, town plans were required to be updated every five years. The commission missed the 2015 deadline and the Select Board readopted  the 2010 plan. The commission then began rewriting the bylaws adopted in 2014, which it turned over to the Select Board for adoption earlier this year. It was about to turn its attention to work on the Town Plan — which is due to be adopted in 2020 — when resignations made it impossible to assemble a quorum. Under a new state law, the new plan will be for eight years, rather than five years.

The next meeting of the Chester Planning Commission meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 7 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.




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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    Just to be clear the town of Cherokee is actually in North Carolina boarding Tennessee and Georgia. I used it as an example because it is a gateway town for Smokey Mountain attractions; a place people drive through like Chester. It may or may not be a good reference, but the point is there are other places like ours we can look at to learn from and much information is public available on line.

    The town that experienced the revival I spoke of is in Minnesota. I mentioned it separately but in the same context that town’s name escaped me at the time it’s Lanesboro, Minn. The link provided below shows the transformation of Lanesboro. The Vermont Arts Council sponsored an economic development meeting in Brattleboro a few years back which I attended John Davis was the speaker.

    I want to add that Julie is no doubt correct that it’s not the Planning Board’s job to market the town. My point, perhaps not clear in conversation, is a reference to marketing could be added and or may be needed depending on opinion.

    It could be short such as “The town of Chester recognizes its need to share our quality of life and business opportunities with people who may not be aware of what we have to offer through a form of marketing. In so doing the town may encourage the transfer of residential and commercial properties currently marketed bringing in new residents and businesses in order to sustain the Town and its population”. That’s it. Our current market is very stagnant and may benefit from a boost that may not be needed in the future. Therefore, being that it’s a Town plan stating the obvious is best because the gray areas may change.

    It’s nice we have so much coverage of local government in such a small town thank you Telegraph. I will try to talk slower in the future! Lol

  2. Arlene says:

    I am thrilled that the board is realizing that living and working and playing in the same town is a good goal. Zoning has to be flexible/modernized and updated periodically in order for those 3 things to come to being in one area. Staying stagnant and in the past, is not the answer.