Two select boards push back on their planning commissions Short-term rentals, energy chapter at issue as ARPA fund uses discussed

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2023 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

At their last regular meetings of 2022 the Select Boards of Andover and Cavendish took issue with the work of their towns’ Planning Commission and, in one instance, broached the idea of removing members to get its way.

The Andover Select Board discusses an amendment to the town’s zoning regulations regarding short-term rentals. Images courtesy of Okemo Valley TV

On Dec. 27 in Andover, the board took up its Planning Commission’s zoning bylaw amendment that would regulate short-term rentals. The commission had recently held a public hearing on the measure and several Select Board members were disappointed that the commission did not incorporate more of the public’s input. Assistant Town Clerk Jonathan Stevens explained that if the commission had made substantial changes, it would have to begin again with public hearings. Sending it to the Select Board is a way to have it approved or get suggested changes.

Board members balked at some of the prohibitions in the amendment such as weddings, parties and catered events at rentals with some feeling this would restrain the owners from holding their own events on their property. After some discussion, the board stripped out all prohibitions.

There was also some discussion of the fees for registration being different based on whether the property owner lives on site or does not (hosted vs. unhosted). Board member Richard Griswold suggested making both the same at $100. Board member Susan Leader asked if that was enough to cover the costs of the plan and Griswold noted that the town would not be using a company to monitor compliance the way other towns — such as Chester — are. Melissa Gates-Perry pointed to Chester’s new short-term rental ordinance as having a $500 fee, but Town Clerk Jeanette Haight corrected that, saying that the fees were $300 for unhosted and $150 for hosted rentals. Griswold moved to make the fee $100 across the board but as discussion continued there was no second and the motion was never voted on.

In addition to the annual fee, each short-term rental will require a conditional use permit, which involves a review by the Zoning Board of Adjustment with a one time fee of $200.

The “substantial” changes to the document will trigger another public hearing before the bylaw amendment can go before the voters and the window for warning and holding that hearing is closing fast if the board wants to put the question on the Town Meeting Day Warning.

Cavendish wrestles with energy chapter

On Dec. 19 in Cavendish, the town’s Select Board heard a report from the Planning Commission on an energy chapter. Commission chair Etienne Ting told the board that part of the delay in working on the chapter has been due to difficulty in getting a quorum for meetings but that the commission is also questioning whether the enhanced energy plan will actually benefit the town.

Cavendish Select Board members discuss energy chapter for the Town Plan

Earlier in the year, the board had asked the commission to incorporate the chapter into the Town Plan, but Ting told the board that to do that they would have to adopt the State of Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan by referring to it. He explained that the commission members have not been able to read the entire state chapter, which runs to 305 pages, and don’t feel comfortable with it unless they understand it and its implications for the town.

He said there is a motion on the table to adopt the energy chapter and, if it passes at the January meeting, the commission will work to add it to the town plan.

At that point, board member George Timko told Ting that the Select Board had voted to adopt the energy chapter and if the commission doesn’t at that to the town plan, the board will have to “look at the composition of the planning commission” and decide what to do from there.

“You just can’t let a planning commission overrule your select board,” said Timko.

Planning Commission chair Etienne Ting explains his panel’s misgivings about the state’s energy plan.

Ting told Timko that the commission is following the procedure for amending the Town Plan.

“If it means changing the planning commission, I’ve seen towns totally wipe out the planning commission,” said Timko who asserted that the select board tells the planning commission what to do.  Vermont state law allows for a  select board to remove any member of its planning commission at any time but only by a unanimous vote of the board.

Ting said that the state’s plan is to eliminate fossil fuels and electrify the state but it doesn’t have a plan for what happens when the grid goes down for an extended period.

“You have to understand what’s in that document,” said Ting. “Imagine how your life is going to change with no gas, no propane, no heating oil.”

Former select board member Stu Lindberg urged board members to read the state’s plan.

Andover board looks at tax maps and reappraisal

The Andover board heard from Franco Rossi of CAI Technologies, which contracts with more than 650 municipalities to supply online tax maps with GIS layers that link to lister cards and assessment information. GIS stands for geographical information system. Rossi noted that towns all around Andover use the company’s system. You can see Chester’s map here.

According to Andover Town Clerk Jeanette Haight, the maps the town currently uses date back to around 2016 and another vendor was not updating them promptly. Board members who have explored other town’s CAI maps were enthusiastic about their ease of use and accuracy. Haight noted that the town’s procurement policy would require another bid but that the cost of getting the system up and running is an acceptable expense for the town’s American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The board also spoke with listers Fran and Leo Salazar about the possibility of the town conducting a statistical reappraisal to get grand list values in line with actual values. Fran Salazar told the board that the town’s Common Level of Assessment — the CLA — stands at .8096. The CLA compares the actual sales prices of real estate with their assessments and expresses that as a number. If sales and assessments are the same that number is 1.

When sales prices are lower than the assessment, the CLA number is higher than one. In Andover, homes are selling for much more than their assessment, so the CLA is lower than one. When the CLA gets down to .85, the state mandates a reappraisal. Since houses throughout Vermont sold for more than their assessments, many towns must do reappraisals.

This is important to taxpayers since each town’s education tax rate is based on the CLA and a low number increases the tax rate.

The town last appraised properties in 2018 and there are hopes that the state will allow the town to conduct a statistical reappraisal — using sampling to establish a balance between assessment and sales — because it costs less and is quicker.

Fran Salazar said she would contact state officials about the deadline for applying to use the statistical option and with any other questions the board might have about the issue.

Cavendish board approves declaration and ARPA committee

Cavendish Town Manager Brendan McNamara introduced a “declaration of inclusion” that many towns throughout Vermont have adopted, saying that they reject racism and bigotry. Recording Secretary Jen Leak told the board that she had put the measure forward and suggested that the town update its employment policies with this in mind to attract a diverse population to the town. McNamara called the declaration “a very positive statement” from the board and also noted that it is not binding on the board.

A similar declaration sparked an extended debate and a split vote of 3-2 to pass in Chester, but in Cavendish the discussion took only a few minutes and the vote was unanimous.

The board also voted to form an advisory committee to make recommendations to the Select Board on how Cavendish should spend the more than $420,000 the town has received from the American Rescue Plan Act. McNamara said the group will send its ideas to the board, which will make the final decision.

The first meeting of the ARPA committee, which is subject to the Open Meeting Law, was to be held on Dec. 27. The Select Board will formalize the appointments of the committee members at its first meeting in January, which is set for Monday, Jan. 9.

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  1. Maddy Bodin says:

    Ray, I am the one, single, solitary Andover select board member who resigned since March’s Town Meeting Day election. The one, single, solitary person who was nominated to take my place not only ran in that election, but received more votes than I did. (I was re-elected the previous year.)

    Your comment includes misinformation about elections and elective offices.

    I urge readers to consult the Telegraph’s Town Meeting Day election coverage for more accurate information.

  2. Raymond Makul says:

    The character of Andover is changing. Our Select Board, largely composed of unelected members due to an upheaval in its membership, seems to support these changes that are transforming the community residences into one unit rental units, with nobody on site to impose or enforce any rules. It makes one wonder why our Select Board wants to turn this town into one dominated by absentee owners motivated by profit. Andover has no police coverage, no fire department, and no rescue squad. It is ill prepared to handle this transformation. In the meantime, our legitimate public lodging business, Rowell’s Inn, is up for sale, apparently unable to fairly compete with unregulated, untaxed, short term rentals. Andover does not even have a complete list of short term rental properties. Nor does our Select Board seem to want one.