BRISTOL — A land-use zone prohibiting resource extraction is one of the central elements of the Bristol Planning Commission’s proposed town plan update. Due to this zone’s importance and a recent discrepancy over its exact boundaries, the commission this week decided to revisit this part of the plan at a special meeting on Jan. 3.
Acting Chair Chico Martin explained at Tuesday’s commission meeting that this was possible because the town plan had not yet been presented to the selectboard for its review.
The exact perimeter of this zone is crucial. As John Elder put it in a Dec. 2 e-mail to his fellow planners, “The prohibition zone we originally voted on was the lynch-pin of the whole (planning) process, in my opinion, and the viability of the plan as a whole rises or falls on it.”
For that reason, Elder encouraged his fellow planners on Tuesday to revisit this section of the plan.
This suggestion stems from an incident in September, when planner Kris Perlee and Tom Wells (who last week resigned as chair of the planning commission) discovered a discrepancy between the language in the proposed town plan and the map of the no-extraction zone. Perlee said that he sought to fix the error, but by redrawing the map after a September public hearing of the plan he created a dispute about how and where the lines of the no-extraction zone should be redrawn. The redrawn zone boundaries cut out a portion of the controversial Lathrop property, which has been the subject of a long-running legal dispute regarding an extraction permit.
“All I did was take the data I had. I didn’t infer anything. I didn’t guess,” said Perlee on Tuesday. “I just took words that we had on paper and put them on a map, and that’s where I ran with it. The timing had nothing to do with it … It wasn’t an eleventh-hour sneak attack … there was no deception intended.”
The map alteration that vocal residents have scrutinized is the part that now cuts through the Lathrop property. The previous map of the no-extraction zone — the one shown to citizens at the public hearing — encompassed all of that property.
Perlee did indeed draw the map according to the words in the plan. But the dispute over where to redraw the extraction prohibition zone actually stems from those words.
The Lathrop property is in the present Rural Agriculture 2 (RA2) zone and the words in the proposed plan say that the extraction prohibition zone will include “a portion of what is that present RA2 zone.” The words in the plan do not quantify that portion.
In an effort to clear up this confusion, Elder made the following statement on Tuesday:
“It was absolutely clear to me on Oct. 18, as it is now, that no one on the planning commission was trying to mislead colleagues. However, the conversation and decision took place within an inherently ambiguous situation … The problem (is) that over the past year we have dealt with four significantly different iterations of the map: the one discussed and approved in December of 2010, the subsequent map discussed and approved for purposes of inclusion in a poll of voters on March 1… the one printed in the July draft of the town plan that was discussed at public hearings and the proposed revision presented by Kris Perlee on Oct. 18. It is entirely possible, I believe, to sort these different versions out and decide which of their features most of us prefer.”
Elder put a motion on the table to reevaluate the no-extraction zone, and the planners formed consensus to do so.
“Returning to the conversation in this way could also put us in a position to explain the meaning and rationale of our chosen map more clearly to the voters of Bristol,” added Elder.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].