To the editor: Do more words make Chester’s proposed zoning bylaw stricter?

You may have heard at the Chester Planning Commission meetings that the length of the document means there is no more regulations than before. The current bylaw is 142 pages and the proposed bylaw is 245 pages in a smaller font. The difference is about 100 pages.

Let’s look at a use in the current bylaw; Tourist Lodging (defined on page 140) as an example:

Tourist Lodging: Overnight accommodations provided to transients for compensation, including bed and breakfasts, boarding houses, inns, hotels and other overnight accommodations.

The standards to be met for this use are the same as for all uses:

  • General and Specific Standards (section 4.8),
  • Special Criteria for uses in the Village Center, Stone Village and Residential Commercial district,
  • 4.9 Performance Standards (Noise, Air Pollution, Glare, Light or Reflection, Safety Hazards, Electromagnetic Disturbances Water Pollution)
  • General Use standards in Article 3, including off-street parking, landscaping and signs

The General and Performance Standards are found on pages 65 – 69. Off-street parking, landscaping and signs are covered in a total of about 12 pages.

Compare those regulations to the proposed bylaw, which breaks down Tourist Lodging into five separate uses:

  • Bed and Breakfast,
  • Inn,
  • Rooming and Boarding House,
  • Hotel/Motel
  • Short-Term Rental.

The definition for each of these uses is found in the Use Table (Section 2112)

The equivalent of the General, Specific and Performance Standards in the proposed bylaw is found in Section 310 Site Design and Performance Standards. The section runs from page 130 to page 156, or about 26 pages.

Each separate use has an entry in Article 320 Specific Use Standards with special criteria attached to it.

3208 Bed and Breakfast has 8 special conditions

3209 Inn has 7 special conditions

3210 Rooming and Boarding House has 9 special conditions

3211 Short Term Rental has 7 special conditions

3212 Hotel or Motel has 11 special conditions

Now the score card, or summary:

The current bylaw has one use and General, Specific and Performance standards to address.

The proposed bylaw has 5 uses and 42 special conditions plus the 2 general conditions.

This is one example of many over-regulations developed by the consultant with a one-size-fits-all planning for the state of Vermont.

The Chester DRB is expected to make hard decisions on what is appropriate for each type of Tourist Lodging based on the location and surroundings. The tools they need are already in the current zoning bylaw.

The approach the Planning Commission is taking of a complete change of the zoning bylaws is now four years out of date. The Agency of Commerce and Community Development published a document in 2020 that revised the approach to zoning. It formally recommends incremental and organic changes to bylaws, not full replacement. Do we really want to ignore this advice? You can find the ACCD document on line by clicking here.

This is my opinion,

Peter Hudkins
Chester Planning Commission

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  1. Robert Nied says:

    In twenty plus years of working on zoning issues, as a member of planning boards and zoning rewrite committees, as a college lecturer on land use policy, a nonprofit consultant to towns writing or updating zoning laws, an advisor to the American Bar Association on regulatory compliance, and as a Vermont zoning and floodplain administrator, I never once suggested that a land use policy should be judged by how many pages it contains.

    A land use regulation should be considered on whether or not it is consistent with best practices standards, reflects the needs and character of a community, if it was reasonable and enforceable and if it is unambiguously clear. From a practical perspective, the last quality is one of the most important.

    In Vermont the zoning process works as follows: The select board adopts a zoning regulation, the zoning administrator enforces the regulation, enforcement can be appealed to the development review board which has the discretion to interpret the regulations, it can then be appealed again to the Vermont Superior Court Environmental Division, then again to the Vermont Supreme Court and then again to the United State Supreme Court.

    The most common reason for one or more appeals is a lack of clarity in the law which encourages the arbitrary interpretation, application, or enforcement of the regulation.
    The onerous and costly appeals process can best be avoided by a thorough, clear, and granular set of regulations that minimize ambiguity and prevent second guessing of meaning and/or intent.
    Chester’s proposed zoning bylaws are longer than the current regulations because they are more thorough, more granular, clearer, and less likely to be appealed.

    Despite the simplistic and dismissive criticism of how many pages the proposed bylaws contain, and a false conclusion that it must therefore be overly restrictive and an example of excessive regulation, the proposed bylaws actually increase the opportunity for commercial development in Chester, contain more flexibility than the current bylaws, appropriately reflect evolving state requirements and represent not years of wasted time, but rather hundreds of hours of the diligent and careful balancing of best practice standards, public input and state mandates.

    Zoning regulations should not be judged by counting lines, sections, or pages but by actually reading those pages to determine how the document will impact the vibrancy and sustainability of the community.