Chester board revisits bridge decision, unseats planning panel member

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a busy session on Wednesday night, the Chester Select Board discussed revisiting a decision that could result in the town taking a resident’s property by eminent domain and made appointments which shook up the planning commission and left two vacancies on the development review board.

VTrans project manager Jonathan Griffin reviews the project

In September 2019, the Chester board chose not to go with a state plan to replace three bridges on Route 103 north with one bridge, in part because it would have meant taking land from one property owner to build a road to connect another property to the new bridge. But now, before the state and its engineering firm go forward with designing the project, they have approached the town to give it a chance to reconsider.

The state’s plan would have placed a new bridge between the existing Thompson Road and Jewett Road bridges, and demolished those bridges as well as the Palmer Road bridge. That option would have cut off access to the former Goodrich property, then owned by Lisa Kaiman of the nearby Jersey Girls Dairy and would have required taking land from Amy and Brian Mosher to build an extension to Jewett Road. At the time, Kaiman said the new road would make it safer to operate her tractor and other equipment between her farm and the Palmer Road property since she would not have to use Route 103. The Moshers argued that if the new road were built, all of the traffic to the Palmer Road property — including industrial trucks and machinery — would go through their dooryard just a few feet from their house.

In the end, the board chose – by a 3-2 vote – the option that would replace the Thompson and Jewett road bridges with one between them but leave the Palmer bridge in place. At the time, the Palmer bridge – which is owned by the town – was in poor condition, making it inaccessible to fuel trucks and fire apparatus, so the town spent $96,000 on repairs.

Resident Amy Mosher asks the board to stick with the previous decision

But returning last Wednesday, VTrans Project Manager Jonathan Griffin and VHB Engineering Project Manager Aaron Guyette gave a power point presentation that reviewed the previous options and also noted that the project would the first “digital delivery” of a project by the state. That means that contractors will receive computer files – rather than paper drawings – with information including coordinates that computer controlled machinery will use to do some of the work. The digital delivery qualifies the project for greater funding, which will reduce the town’s match from 10 percent to approximately 2.5 percent regardless of what decision the board takes.

Amy Mosher spoke of her surprise that the board was revisiting the decision and her disappointment that she had not heard about it until that day. Long time resident Dick Jewett and Cory Quenneville, who recently purchased Palmer Road house,  also had only heard about the presentation earlier on Wednesday.

Mosher asked the board to reaffirm its original decision but board chair Arne Jonynas said no decision would be made that evening and that the board would take up the question again on April 7.

Planning and zoning boards see upheavals

The Select Board made several surprise moves in the panels that create and carry out the town’s zoning regulations. With longtime members Carla Westine and Naomi Johnson (of the Development Review Board and Planning Commission, respectively) stepping down, it was expected that there would be new people coming onboard. But what was unexpected was for the board to remove a sitting member of one panel and leave openings on another.

Board chair Arne Jonynas says he doesn’t always agree with Lipton as he votes ‘no’ on replacing her

By a vote of 4-1, the board brought Hugh Quinn onto the Planning Commission rather than renewing the term of Cheryl Joy Lipton. Lipton was part of a group of people who came onto the commission in 2017 when Tom Bock left after being elected to the Vermont House, and both Tom Hildreth and Randall Wiggin resigned. She took part in the drafting of the Town Plan update that was approved last year as well as working on the proposed version of the Unified Development Bylaws the have sparked some controversy.

Jonynas was the only “no” vote, saying that while he does not always agree with Lipton’s views, he felt she represented the views of a portion of residents and he did not want to see her leave the commission. He also thanked her for serving on the panel. In addition to Quinn, the board also named Cathy Hasbrouck to the commission. Hasbrouck has been the recording secretary for both the planning and development review panels for several years and is also the assistant to the Zoning Administrator.

And while the board renewed the terms of Gary Coger and Larry Semones to the DRB, it did not appoint anyone else to the open member and alternate seats.

In other business

Remus Preda and Gary Gibbs of People’s United Bank Wealth Management division updated the board on the state of the economic development fund, which the board put into investments in 2015. Since September 2015, according to Gibbs, the fund has seen annual growth of 9.31 percent amounting to more than $161,000 on the original fund balance of approximately $280,000.

Also, the board approved the American Legion’s application for a coin drop fundraiser to be held on Route 103 near Breezy Lane on May 28, the Friday of the Memorial Day weekend.

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  1. F. Bidwell says:

    I think it is very sad Chester had a ZA who was not intimidated. For a number of years I have asked the SB why have by laws if they are not going to enforced them.

  2. Robert Nied says:

    Responding to a perceived controversy around draft recommendations (which are still undergoing revision) by not re-appointing a dedicated, experienced, and credentialed Planning Commission member, creates the appearance of trying to influence the outcome of the commission’s work. Such an action not only appears punitive and short-sighted, but also unnecessary, given that the Select Board has the authority to approve, reject or modify the commission’s final recommendations.

    We should be encouraging citizens to volunteer and contribute their time, energy, and expertise in good faith, rather than discouraging and stifling their efforts.