To the editor: Roper’s letter incorrect, misleading

In his Aug. 17, 2021 letter to the editor Tim Roper stated the following:

“Imagine you’re someone who wants a permit to use your property in some way that’s different from how it’s used now. That could be opening a business, or building a new shed, barn, garage, or accessory dwelling unit. Or maybe you want to subdivide your piece of Chester into two or more lots so you can sell one. In any of these scenarios you’ll go see the town’s Zoning Administrator for a permit. The ZA will reference the UDBs (Unified Development Bylaws) to see if your proposed usage is, a) a permitted use, in which case you’ll be issued a permit without further question,”

As the secretary for the DRB and the Planning Commission for five years, and interim zoning administrator for about five months I have read and am familiar with the proposed bylaws. As chair of the Planning Commission, I feel obligated to assert that Tim’s statement is simply not the case.

Using the example of a permitted use, such as Retail Sales, up to 3,000 square feet in the proposed V12 district, you need to continue to read past the list of conditional uses in the V12 district to find this requirement in section 2101.D which states, “An applicant must obtain site plan approval before the Zoning Administrator may issue a permit for all uses other than single- and two-family dwellings, and accessory uses including home occupation, family child care home, bed-and-breakfast short term rental and farming or forestry (see Section 4304 Site Plan Review).” The statement is detailed and unambiguous. The majority of permitted uses will require a site plan review.

Section 4304 eventually directs every application for a Site Plan review to Figure 4-01, a checklist which lists eight sections of bylaw that must be responded to in order to obtain a permit. The table in Figure 4-01 has columns to indicate which criteria apply to site plan review, conditional use review and planned unit development. The first 9 criteria in the table apply to both site plan review and conditional use review. The criteria are detailed in 30 pages of bylaw text. The evaluation of these criteria cannot be done by the Zoning Administrator alone, the applicant must supply a great deal of information.

Thirty pages of requirements does not constitute issuing a permit “without further questions.” I feel that Tim Roper’s statement is terribly misleading. I am very disappointed that no one checked this claim before publishing it. Misinformation is not helping this process

As for the merits of a detailed list of uses, I will point to the area around the green where nearly every building has a mix of retail, restaurants, offices and apartments. The residential uses list does not include apartment. It seems to be focused on entire buildings that have only residential uses. The regional planning staff who is working with the proposed Village 12 district is struggling see how the proposed bylaws can issue permits for the existing uses around the green. It is surprising that such a common arrangement of commercial uses on the first floor and residential uses above is not provided for in the proposed bylaws.

I am very sorry to see Chester falling into a morass of misinformation. This reinforces the impression that the proposed bylaws are too complex to be understood by an average citizen. The Planning Commission has been reviewing the bylaws since 2018. It’s hard to explain how the bylaws could be so fundamentally misunderstood by some members of the commission after all this time.

I was hesitant to use this forum to address these claims. Since the claims are made in good faith by responsible people, I feel it my duty as the chair to offer a correction. There are some very worthwhile parts of the proposed bylaws that will be helpful to Chester. I don’t want them to get lost in a storm of controversy.

The bylaws are available on the Planning Commission page of Chester’s website for all our citizens to see. Please take a look for yourself. Walk your business through them. Can you get a permit for what you are doing now? We want you to be able to get a permit. We want to support you. You are an asset to the community. There is a link to a comparison of the adopted and proposed bylaws on that page prepared by Hugh Quinn. It even has maps and pictures. I am ready to answer any questions you may have. Your input will help the evaluation process enormously. Let’s work together to make Chester an excellent place to live, work and play and let’s support that goal with workable bylaws.

Cathy Hasbrouck
Chair
Chester Planning Commission

 

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  1. Tim Roper says:

    Thanks for altering your tone to be more civil in your second reply here, Scott.

    I don’t know with whom you’ve been talking, but I do know that the list doesn’t include me. You’re welcome to come sit on my porch for awhile and get some additional perspective around understanding the long and winding road that’s lead us to having these discussions now. I’m one of a very few who’s been involved from the beginning, so it’s not at ll likely that you, or anyone else, has the full story without having gotten my input. That I am in the minority doesn’t make my positions wrong, it just makes me unpopular with those who gobble up the dissemination of fear around improving our zoning for the long term health and well-being of our town.

    As I’ve been saying to those who advocate tossing out the draft of proposed bylaws for over a year, it’s a working document that has not been completed and as such, has not been proposed for adoption. There are still sections of the document that the Planning Commission hasn’t addressed or reviewed at all and there certainly are some rough spots around administering sections that were reviewed and agreed upon by the full, five member Commission. The refusal by the current and previous chairs to complete that work is where the process went off the rails.

    So now it seems we’ll be starting over because of the mistakes made in managing the good work handed off from Naomi Johnson to her successors. It will be a muddy road, but that’s the road that must be traveled to bring this process to fruition. So be it.

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I’m disappointed on a number of levels that this sort of dialogue is going on obviously it’s the nature of politics for folks to take sides but there is a huge disregard for what’s happening to resolve the issues and move forward. In recent meetings we have created a sub committee to review existing and proposed bylaws. We have revisited our initial marching orders and have seen some willingness to bring pieces of new bylaws to the Select Board rather than a whole document. I have been doing a ton of studying on zoning it’s history in the US and where it’s trending in other places I’m not an expert by any means but I’m certain we can move this forward in good a way for our town.
    The majority of the existing bylaws are from 1974 we were asked to upgrade them with the help of a consultant. As Tim pointing out there was an effort to have more things permitted by the ZA making things easier for people but in order to have that happen the performance standards needed to be written out and people still need to dot the i’s and cross the T’s. Different districts have different rules for different reasons that’s what zoning is and as Cathy states some things may require a DRB hearing such as retail where there is a bigger chance of impact on neighbors and the community. Zoning is something that’s done in 98% of towns in the US. Rules set up ahead of time make for good neighbors and protect land values of abutters which is at zoning’s core purpose. Zoning does not deter business for instance home occupations are allowed everywhere in Vermont which makes our town a great place for people who want to hang out a shingle here. The ZA is there to help people with the process yes there are hurdles to jump for bigger projects, it’s not fun, but it’s part of the deal people should not fear the process.
    Much money and time was spent to create a downtown master plan and the work with Brandy Sexton to create the current proposed bylaws. To Scott’s point about one or two people on the board controlling things that is not logical because all actions are voted on and there are 5 members anything can be brought to a vote 2 votes are not a majority. With regards to listening No one I repeat No one from the community has come to me to make suggestions as to what they think would be best for the bylaws! I’m on the board I actually have a voice no one has made a suggestion to me. No one in town government has told me to think differently or tried to sway my opinion. I have been told it’s a diverse board you need to work it out when I have brought issues to community leaders. I have been told the proposed bylaws are difficult to follow and they should be written so the average Chester person can understand it that was stated publicly at the last meeting by our Town manager and Select Board Chair. I’d like to see the bylaws be the best they can be the challenge is some one has to write it all out. We had help from some one who writes bylaws for a living, knows state mandates and has created language for many towns across the state. We now have help from Regional Planning and a very experienced ZA. I think we are moving forward in a good way and it will get done. We have issues we face which people have different options on such as size of subdivisions, forest blocks, encroachment on water ways and protecting the environment it’s no small task. Although the average Chester citizen may be smart, talented, a good person and have some unique skills few others have I’m guessing being skilled at writing zoning bylaws is probably not a strong suit for most. If it is your skill I’d welcome your help. I’m available to talk with anyone in the community that is concerned about this issue. Thank you, Barre Pinske

  3. SCOTT MACDONALD says:

    Tim, respectfully, since you are publicly accusing me of being ill-informed I will reply to you, despite not using your name in my above comment. Since you addressed me directly in a disrespectful manner, you’ve left me no choice but to reply to you. No hard feelings; I like you and value you, and I have a thick skin. Please understand I truly believe you are doing what you think best, however you seem to have on blinders to what the majority of people in our town want. Some would call this arrogance. I would not, preferring to think you are trying your best to do a good job. I can see that you care about our town. There is stubbornness on both sides of the fence, Tim, which is why I did not use names in my comment.

    Considering me Ill-informed is a mistake. I have spent hours upon hours with leaders in our community on several porches and an occasional campfire discussing zoning and I’ve read both the current bylaws and the proposed ones cover to cover. Only a handful of people in Chester can claim this. I actually, am quite informed.

    There are long-term ripple effects to change, and listening more to others would not be a bad idea. I would not have made this comment had I not seen on multiple occasions people being shut down and told they are mistaken by members of the planning commission. In fact, you just did this to me in your comment. Telling people they are wrong comes easily to some folks, it seems. That in itself is a red flag to me. Considering the opinions of others who disagree is an important trait among leaders. This likely was discussed in the leadership workshop you mentioned taking at one of the PC meetings. I am no stranger to leadership; I simply prefer not talk about the many paths in leadership I have been honored to walk.

    I would suggest this to you: listen and consider the thoughts of others before being so quick to tell them they are misinformed or incorrect. I for one am often wrong; it is in fact a hobby I am quite good at! There are very likely details and purpose within your work that I am not aware of that would enlighten me. I am open to having my perspective changed. I know you all mean well and are working hard. However, I would suggest that your hard work has created proposed changes that are too sweeping and complicated. When people try to talk about this to the PC, it does not end well. People feel they are not being heard. This is simply how it is.

    It is my opinion and the opinion of many in our town that the current bylaws can be updated with the important work you have done. The binder need not be an inch thicker for you to have done your important job. I would not have made my previous comment if I felt there were any recourse. If the appearance of your closed-mindedness is incorrect, please consider that there are reasons why people feel the way they do and take steps to meet them in the middle. Thank you, and please, no hard feelings. Our passions get the best of all of us at times.

  4. Tom Knockenhauer says:

    Don’t change what’s not broke

  5. Tim Roper says:

    Cathy, this letter is disappointing and I would have thought beneath you had I not read it, twice. You and Peter Hudkins like to leave out the fact that the document you insist upon trashing at every opportunity is still in draft form, with many sections having not yet been discussed by the full planning commission. Although we have had ample time to do so in the past year and a quarter, all that has come from our chair is an insistence upon undermining the good work it represents rather than putting the time into fixing its rough patches and making it a positive step for our town, for now and long into the future. Shame on you.

    Scott, you have every right to express your opinion, no matter how ill informed it may be, but the fact is that you don’t know what you don’t know.

    I’m tired of wasted time and I’m ready to get to work on putting a new set of bylaws put together, whether as a piecemeal process, or as a full body of work. That said, I will never stop speaking out in attempting to bring the truth of the situation into the public eye as long as I’m on the Planning Commission.

  6. SCOTT MACDONALD says:

    Cathy, frankly, we should be updating the current bylaws with whatever new modifications are required. The stubbornness of certain members of the Planning commission is a slap in the face to the people of this town.

    One or two commission members who disagree with almost everyone else in town government shouldn’t and can’t have this kind of control. The misinformation, and I’m being polite called some it that, in itself is cause for removal. Enough is enough. When our own town attorney feels our present bylaws are in compliance, this hornet’s nest was sold to our town by an outside consultant using cookie-cutter templates from other towns should be put aside.

    We can take whatever great work this Planning Commission has done that needed to be, and apply it to the current bylaws.

    As a new member to the Developmental Review Board, I can assure you our job is complex enough. This new proposed plan is simply too sweeping, it will complicate the process of granting permits, scare away potential business and home business with its complexity, and change the lives of too many people. I don’t care if they’ve worked on it for over two years. Wrong is wrong. Stubborn is stubborn. One or two people’s opinions should not outweigh the feelings of everyone else. It is ludicrous.

    We can take what we need to from the work they’ve done, update the current bylaws, and be finished. I ask the Select Board to please consider how long this is taking, and what an embarrassment so many of the outbursts at the PC’s meetings have been to our town. If certain members do not want to work fairly, openly, honestly and respectfully, remove them.

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