Helipad letter prompts Weston board to push
for updated Town Plan, zoning regulations

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Weston Select Board took the first step toward updating the town’s zoning laws and Town Plan at its Feb. 23 meeting, prompted by a letter from Vermont’s Transportation Board regarding permitting for helipads and airstrips.

Transportation board Helipad Letter In the letter, which you can read here, the Transportation Board said there has been a “significant increase” in applications for private helipads and airstrips over the past few years, many serving “a single home in an existing subdivision or neighborhood.”

“These private facilities can dramatically change the character of an area and can have negative impacts while providing a private benefit to few,” the memo reads.

Vermont’s permitting process has three components beginning with local municipalities. Town officials are the first to approve or deny the land-use regulations regarding helipads and airstrips before further review at the state and federal level. Problems can arise, however, when towns have no laws on the books regulating such structures.

“Land use issues and neighborhood concerns can go unchecked,” the board says, encouraging Vermont cities and towns to adopt policies or bylaws regarding aviation facilities. Applications for helipads and airstrips are increasing all across the state, according to the board, and they are “often for locations within or close to village settings or in existing residential neighborhoods in rural communities.”

Select Board vice chair Jim Linville brought the issue to the board on Tuesday night, suggesting that the town Planning Commission begin reviewing the zoning bylaws. Board member Charles Goodwin agreed, adding that “there are people who are arriving… some of whom a chopper commute is probably not completely unusual to them.”

Board member Anne Fuji’i said the zoning updated has been recommended.

Board member Anne Fuji’i, who formerly served on Weston’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, said that a zoning update had been recommended by multiple sources including the Windham Regional Commission and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Grants are likely available to fund a consultant for the project, she said, agreeing that the issue should be headed up by the Planning Commission.

A town plan must be reviewed every eight years, and said Town Clerk Kim Seymour, the board signed off on Weston’s current plan in 2016. Pursuing both projects together might be a good idea, she suggested.

In an email to The Telegraph, Jason Rasmussen of the Mount Ascutney Regional Commission,  clarified that “since zoning needs to be in conformance with the town plan. It is recommended that zoning bylaws/UDBs (Unified Development Bylaws) are evaluated after a town plan is updated/adopted.”

Rasmussen added, “Public hearings are required for both town plan as well as bylaw adoptions.”

Any changes to the zoning bylaw would need to be warned and voted on by Australian ballot, Fuji’i explained, suggesting that the Planning Commission and possibly a consultant look into conditional use and other regulations regarding aviation facilities. Goodwin agreed to begin a conversation with Weston’s Planning Commission and possibly the Windham Regional Commission.

After printer problem, new IT contractor sought

The board also began discussing the possibility of hiring an IT contractor to service the town office computers following a request from Seymour. A recent software update had interrupted the office’s printing capabilities for two days, she said, and, due to personal constraints, the town’s current IT contractor was not able to service the computers until the weekend.

Town Clerk Kim Seymour said the printer problems could have put the town ‘in a real pickle.’

“He can’t come in an emergency and if it had been worse we would have been in a real pickle,” Seymour said. She has since spoken to a few IT professionals in the area, who explained that the issue could have been resolved remotely.

Board Chair Denis Benson suggested that Seymour survey other towns to see what IT services they utilize. The board agreed to hear from potential contractors in future meetings and continue discussion of the issue.

A bid request for the culvert replacement project at Trout Club Road will be released soon following authorization from the board, but it will include a caveat that the town is still awaiting grant funding from the Vermont Agency of Transportation. The project will likely not move forward if the requested $175,000 in funding is not received, Linville said, but the agency has implied that Weston is “at the top of their list.”

In other action:

  • Road Foreman Almon Crandall has begun talking with the Agency of Transportation about traffic control options for Bunker Hill, the site of multiple crashes near the Weston Town Green. He will report back to the board at its first meeting in March.
  • Board members agreed to look into options for repainting or even replacing the town’s “Welcome to Weston” signs.
  • The board moved against joining the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce, noting that town businesses and organizations can still do so.
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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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