Chester board mulls gardens, housing, short-term rentals in wide ranging meeting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Coming in at just under three hours in length, the Oct. 19 Chester Select Board meeting got through a packed agenda that included a request for a lease to use the Canal Street well site for a community garden, a discussion of how to approach the lack of affordable housing, a further discussion of a proposed short-term rental ordinance and engineering updates on a secondary water well and a wastewater management plan.

Community garden chair Cheryl Joy Lipton asks the board to vote on leasing her group the Canal Street Well site. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens board chair Cheryl Joy Lipton told the board that 165 people have expressed support for the concept of putting community gardens in the 3-acre plot at the end of Canal Street, where the town’s emergency well is located. She said she had researched previous uses including a carnival, skating rink and dirt bike riding. She thought that compared to those, gardening would be “gentle and quiet.”

While the town is waiting for a survey to lay out the boundaries, Lipton thought that would not have a bearing on the board’s approving the project.

Board chair Arne Jonynas saying he is afraid of ‘losing the spirit of the thing’ in making a lease

Board member Lee Gustafson recalled that he had asked for a plan in writing and Lipton said she expected to do that after the project was approved. Gustafson said that – for himself, not the board – he needed to see a plan with dates before he could approve of the plan. There was also discussion of whether a lease – even a simple one – was needed.

Board chair Arne Jonynas said he was afraid to lose “the spirit of the thing” in the legal aspects, but members agreed that some sort of agreement was needed.  Lipton asked if the board wanted to vote on it that night contingent on an agreement. Board members said no.

Water/Sewer Superintendent Jeff Holden expressed concern regarding the use of chemicals that could pollute the well site but Lipton said they would be practicing entirely organic gardening.

Town Manager Julie Hance said she would pull something together for the next meeting.

Housing needs, solutions

Hance told the board that there is  a lot of money coming along from the state that will be going toward housing.  Hance later told The Telegraph that this is American Rescue Plan money with similar deadlines to the ARPA funds the town is planning to spend. Such funds would need to be obligated by the end of  2024 and spent by the end of 2026. 

Town Manager Julie Hance proposes to form a housing committee to move forward with ideas to expand housing

With that in mind Hance said she would like to see the Select Board establish a housing committee that could work with Town Planner/Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow and the Planning Commission on figuring out housing needs and working on increasing access to housing.  She envisions a housing committee as a group of five to seven people who have experience in issues around developing housing or related skills and she gave examples of the large and small things they could do.

As an example, Hance said the town could make the sewer and water connection fee more affordable as a way to give builders a break toward developing more housing.  The connection fee is currently $5,000 each. A much larger, and probably more difficult, project would be to take the first steps toward building a neighborhood on the 100 acres left over from the land purchased for a water tank site near Green Mountain High School off Route 103 S. On the upside, the property is near to the end of town water and sewer lines. Even so, it is also under the jurisdiction of Act 250.

Saying that it was one step out of 10,000, Hance noted that state agencies have the money and are interested in funding complete neighborhoods. How that might work with Act 250 was not discussed. Hance also said that municipal planning grant money could be used for a housing study to frame the needs.

Planning Commission member Peter Hudkins said the situation was more urgent than that, noting that the town needs to find property and funding sources.  Commission member Cathy Hasbrouck also said that infill development was also a viable option.

Short-term rental ordinance second look

Hance said after discussing the ordinance with Bristow, she was returning with two changes. One did away with the classifications of “hosted” and “unhosted” and the second established an across-the-board fee of $200 for registration. Jonynas asked if the reduction of the fee continues to make registration revenue neutral when the town is paying for a “host compliance” service. Hance thought it would.

Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow explains that state law already requires those renting to more than 8 guests to have a fire safety inspection

At the previous meeting, the idea of simply getting a “snapshot” of the short-term rental market in Chester was floated, but Hance noted that the service provider would not do that.

Second homeowner Russell Fearing, who owns an STR in the Stone Village, had two concerns. First, he wondered how long someone who is renting to more than eight guests would have to “cure” any problems found by the state fire safety inspection. Bristow said that in effect, that’s up to the state. For a major problem like insufficient ways to get out in case of an emergency the state may say it has to be corrected. On a smaller problem the inspector may issue a provisional approval.

In response to a Telegraph question, Bristow confirmed that state law already requires owners renting to more than eight guests to have a state inspection and when he was in Killington the state thanked the town for instituting registration because it pushed landlords to come to fire safety for inspections.

Planning commission chair Hugh Quinn explains that the only information the town will get from a compliance company is what’s listed on the short-term rental platform

Fearing was also concerned about what information the town would be collecting via its compliance service and who that might be shared with. Jonynas said it would be interesting to see what the application form is collecting as well.

Planning commission chair Hugh Quinn said that the information that the compliance service company collects comes directly from the rental platform and Bristow said he would avoid asking for any other personal information.

Chester resident Ian Montgomery, who also owns an STR in the Stone Village, said he viewed Granicus, the compliance service, as Big Brother. Montgomery said he has lived in a very regulated country and came to the United States to be free.

Stone Village resident Cathy Guirtino has worried about winding up with a lack neighbors as more and more houses along North Street become vacant except for the days they are rented. She was disappointed with dropping the categories of hosting and suggested a cap on the number of such rentals.

In the end, the board asked Hance to send both versions of the ordinance to town attorney Jim Carroll for review.

Finding a second well, assessing wastewater management

Dufresne engineer Naomi Johnson told the board that increased demand has made it necessary for the town to look for a second municipal water well. The two sites that the town has identified for a second well are the current Jeffrey site north of the Stone Village and one on Green Mountain Turnpike. The hydrogeological study of the sites will be paid for by the state’s drinking water fund and the town would not be required to repay the state until it begins construction of a new well.

Engineer Naomi Johnson explains the need to move forward on well and sewer projects

Hance asked the board to approve of her applying for funding of the hydrogeologist. Johnson said the final cost including a generator, pump house, water main to connect to the system and permits would come in at around $800,000. The board approved of the process and gave Hance permission to go forward.

After Johnson outlined what would go into a $78,000 project to assess and map, meter and inspect the sewer, Hance noted that a 50 percent grant was available and that this information would help with planning a future sewer upgrade and work on the Depot Street force main. The board also approved going forward with the funding application.

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  1. Kathy Vize says:

    I’ve read of the discussions concerning districts, businesses and legacy uses. Were non-hosted STRs considered during zoning meetings?

    STR owners have stated that their clients bring tourism money into town. Yes, that’s a good thing, but as the number of non-hosted STRs grow, the number of available housing units decreases and the expense of developing new, affordable housing — such as discounted sewer and water connection fees for developers — is shifted onto the community.

    There needs to be balance.

    My mother and father had retired to St. Augustine Beach, Florida in 1996. It is a beautiful area with a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities– not unlike Chester. They had a house built to accommodate my disabled mother. My grandmother followed a few years later, buying a condo near them. Despite plenty of hotels along Beach A1A, the STRs began to proliferate. Units would sell in my grandmother’s condo community; the new owners would immediately list them on STR sites. Homeowners were concerned about the quality of life issues brought by STRs and the loss of reasonable LTRs as units were sold to ‘investors’. To reduce the impact on the residential communities within the St. Augustine Beach ‘city’ limits, laws were adopted; STRs (aka Transient rentals) were required business licenses, inspections and appropriate taxes. A cap was placed on the number of units that would receive a Transient rental license.

    They established balance.

    I’m including a link to that municipality’s rules. They might seem tough, but it has made a positive impact on residential quality of life while still allowing non-hosted STR owners to operate in a safe and community-responsible manner while making money. A win-win.

    “Transient Rentals | St. Augustine Beach Florida”

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I think it’s great a group is taking something they are passionate about and trying to move it forward within our community. I support the well sight it’s town land and not utilized by the community. That being said I these projects are not much different than when we were kids hoping enough players would come to the park so we could have a game which also included individuals with enough concern for fairness that the teams were as balanced as possible. In this case Cheryl Joy and her friends have been trying to create the game. I was thinking she has a very large lot I believe almost 5 acres that could house the gardens and Greenhouse. The land runs along First Avenue it is next to the grain store and the new Brookside Trail comes out over there it could be a great spot for the project. As an example I worked very hard to try to create a festival grounds for my carving festival and other events with the idea it could enrich our town it was a lot of effort with little gain ultimately my friend Rich bought land we can do the Big Buzz on the on it’s working great for us while the original field sits empty. I won’t go as far to say our community is not supportive and helpful because when people have struggles our community steps up in a big way buy it’s not some place where they care much about anyone’s pet project that may boost the culture hopefully that will change. I would be happy to help with some fund raising to help put the greenhouse on private land such as the Lipton property I think it is a cool idea. We are not a city people here have land for gardens as usual many tomatoes and zucchini where given away again in bushels this season. The idea of the Green House and a longer season is really cool, practicing sustainability is awesome for those interested in that but the struggle is it’s not truly solving a greater food problem or anything on a higher level benefit to society.

  3. Jack Carroll says:

    I feel the community garden is a great idea. People will always support a garden.
    I do however feel the location should be reconsidered.
    Locating the garden in the center of town, in a residential area should not be considered.
    There are plenty of other locations that would suit their needs.
    I am confident the folks organizing this project mean well. The local folks of Chester have seen many well meaning people come and go over the last 60 years.
    I feel there will be traffic issues, animal issues, and privacy issues for many of the homeowners living very close.
    Sooner or later it will become an expense to the town.

    Jack Carroll

  4. F andC Esposito says:

    Looks like Chester is going to transition into a typical New Jersey suburban town. This is “The Vermont you were looking for”?