Chester Business Coalition talks business growth, affordable housing, state funding

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Saying that there is no one – such as a chamber of commerce or other organization – representing businesses in Chester, Steve Mancuso kicked off the July meeting of the nascent Chester Business Coalition at the American Legion on Monday night.

Steve Mancuso reads the misson statement for the coalition <small>Photos by Shawn Cunningham</small>

Steve Mancuso reads the misson statement for the coalition Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Founded by Mancuso, an electrician who has been working in the Chester area for more than 25 years, the coalition has been meeting since January with the focus on “business community well-being.”

After a brief introduction and the reiteration of the group’s mission, Mancuso introduced updates from the Chester Planning Commission.

Commission chair Hugh Quinn gave the gathering of about 20 people an update on the commission’s work including asking the Select Board to waive most of the fees for registering a home occupation in Chester. The Select Board agreed and now $35 of the $50 fee has been dropped for two years to encourage registration and to get a better idea of how many businesses there are in town. A $15 recording fee does remain.

Describing the commission’s work on updating the development bylaws (or zoning regulations) Quinn said that the town plan and state law inform their work. He said the commission is trying to balance making it easier to live and work in Chester without it becoming “the wild, wild west.”

Planning Commission chair Hugh Quinn gives an update on the rewriting of the towns zoning regs

Planning Commission chair Hugh Quinn gives an update on the rewriting of the towns zoning regs

Quinn pointed to the workshops the commission is holding to get more community participation and input in its decision making. He also noted that the commission is working on a survey that will go out to Chester residents  and second homeowners to help make sure the panel is representing its constituents in deciding what kind of town Chester wants to be. Included in the discussion of the survey was the question of housing for people to work in businesses.

“You can’t grow unless you can hire people,” said Joe Karl, a local realtor.

That dovetailed with a discussion of a draft ordinance that would take first steps toward regulating short term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO. Quinn said “doing nothing” was not a great idea and the commission had decided to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach of placing some guardrails including a registration process, maximum occupancy based on the ability of septic systems to handle it and certification of basic health and safety requirements.

Noting that the state is short on fire safety inspectors, commission member Peter Hudkins said that function could be done by requiring commercial insurance for such rentals. Hudkins noted that insurance inspectors would understand loss and risk.

Hudkins also spoke about a bylaw amendment that would loosen some regulations around land uses that have been changed with zoning updates thus creating “non-conformities.” (See article here.) The amendment would create a pathway to renewing an old use as a legacy. A second part of the amendment would also allow for “adaptive re-use” for buildings whose original purpose no longer exists to secure new uses – even ones not available in the district where the buildings are located. Applications for legacy uses or adaptive reuses would have to go through a conditional use permit hearing before the Development Review Board. The commission will hold a hearing on the amendment at 6:30 p.m. on Monday Aug. 1 at Town Hall.

‘Negative growth,’ empty buildings and ARPA funding

The coalition gathered on Monday night

The coalition gathered on Monday night

Mancuso told the meeting that he believes that Chester is “tipping into negative growth” and that one way of turning that around is to find uses for a number of “empty buildings” that he says used to house businesses. Among those on his list were several that are owned by businesses and used for storage or are in some sort of transition.

Mancuso pointed to the large amount of ARPA funding that the state of Vermont has available for businesses. Pointing to the former “Kalico Kitchen” also known as Jack’s Diner, Mancuso said someone needs to contact the owner and point him in the direction of such funding so the place could be in business again.

Mancuso would also like to see redevelopment of the Jeffrey Barn on 103 north across from Trebo Road. The barn is owned by the town as part of the well site that provides water to homes and businesses in the village and the Select Board has looked at the building a number of times. Attending the CBC meeting, Select Board chair Arne Jonynas said that the barn would be “an expensive building to do anything with.”

“You’ve got to put money into it to get something out of it,” said Mancuso.

Coalition to form a board and committees

Mancuso asked those present to step up and work on the issues discussed as board members for the coalition. The group was also interested in committees for working on particular issues. Karl said he would serve with group to look at the short term rental situation and the effects it has on Chester.

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  1. to G. Donohue, ‘exclusive’ to Chester Business would be more accurate

    to John Grady
    anything is possible if we work together


  2. G. Donohue says:

    Just a friendly fact check regarding the misstatement that there is no chamber representing Chester businesses. The Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce has many Chester businesses as members. In Fact, they met last night in Chester for their July meeting.

  3. John Grady says:

    If possible create a Chester Housing Authority and work with the non-profit housing agencies to build housing. Maybe buy the industrial park that is forsale and build
    6 small 3 story buildings.

    #1 condo’s for seniors
    #2 apartments for seniors
    #3 condo’s with 1 bedroom
    #4 apartments with 1 bedroom
    #5 condo’s with 2 & 3 bedrooms for families
    #6 apartments with 2 & 3 bedrooms for families.

    The above would avoid building a housing project type development.
    Make the units good size & in a park like setting for quality of life and leave room for nature by not over building the property.