Chester board OKs ‘audit’ of town zoning regs

Chester Executive Assistant explains how an audit of zoning regulations will benefit the town. All photos by Shawn Cunningham.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

After a couple of years of controversy over Chester’s zoning regulations and the way they are implemented, the town’s Select Board at its Aug. 2 meeting gave the go-ahead to an “audit” of the town’s development statutes.

Noting that the town’s zoning code is old and that there have been many changes in the philosophy and practice of zoning since its inception in the 1970s, Executive Assistant Julie Hance told the board that an “audit” of the regulations would help the town “get to where it wants to be.”

Also described by board member Heather Chase as an assessment, the audit would be conducted by professional planners and would look at the town’s zoning – identifying weaknesses – and suggesting ways to fix them.

“The current zoning code has always been Band-Aided when there were problems,” said Hance noting that heading toward an audit will make an application for a municipal planning grant more competitive. Administered by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the municipal planning grant could help implement the suggestions that come out of an audit. Grant applications are due in October.

Board member Lee Gustafson said he hoped that this would bring the community together while Dan Cote said he saw this not as an expense, but as an investment. The board approved the expenditure of $10,000 for the audit with board chair Arne Jonynas pointing to the $30,000 refund from the old solid waste district’s contingency fund as a possible source of the money.

Wayfinding plan

Hance also asked the board to approve the hiring of SE Group to put together the town’s “wayfinding” plan. Wayfinding is an engineering process that involves using signs to help explain the layout of the town to visitors to help them get to where they want to go. Such a plan was identified as one of the town’s main goals by the Village Center Master Planning process during its public meetings last year.

SE Group has been conducting the master planning process and has given the town a price of $24,000 for the wayfinding and implementation plans.

Chase said that she was in favor of the plan but asked Hance to see if SE Group could do better on the price. Hance said she thought the price was very good because SE Group is already familiar with the town and the problems with its layout, but that she would check and get back to the board.

“The sooner we get started on this, the better,” said Cote.

Visioning process for board members

Windham and Windsor County forester Sam Schneski explains harvesting lumber from the town forest.

The board began its “visioning” process with each member putting what he or she felt was important to the town on a list. There was a good deal of discussion of these and the board decided not to cast votes on which were the most important as the meeting approached 10 p.m. Among the areas identified as important by the board were:

  • Prioritize infrastructure – maintenance and improvement
  • Public safety – including better control of traffic speeds.
  • Preserving historic assets and leveraging them
  • Supporting the family
  • Quality of life improvements including recreation
  • Signage
  • Increase the number of festival events in town – maybe hiring staff to coordinate
  • Attracting people to live in Chester
  • Making more rental units for families and the elderly
  • An Economic Development Plan
  • Support local businesses
  • Attract new businesses
  • Make necessary changes to zoning

The board will discuss and prioritize this list at future meetings. The visioning process was suggested by Dan Cote as a way to identify priorities as the board begins the annual budget process later this year.

In other business

Windham and Windsor County forester Sam Schneski appeared before the board to answer questions on a plan to harvest trees in the town forest.

Architect Claudio Veliz updates the Select Board on the feasibility study his firm is conducting for a proposed emergency services building.

Schneski said that removing the red and white pine trees that have reached their maximum growth would preserve their value to the town rather than allowing them to decay and be blown over by wind. Removing these large trees would also promote the growth of hardwoods such as red oak and black and yellow birch.

Board members asked if the contract for cutting the trees could include some provision to send logs to local mills since those are having trouble getting logs. Schneski said that restrictions in the contract would make it more difficult for loggers to bid the work.

Chester Architect Claudio Veliz updated the board on his progress in working on the feasibility plan for an emergency services building. Veliz said the job would be substantially complete by the end of August.

The board asked for the table of contents for the final report so they could see where the process was going and requested that he give a report at the Sept. 6 board meeting.

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