Bristol: now's your chance
The Bristol Planning Commission took a welcome stance last week when it staked out a more thorough process to solicit public comment on gravel and resource extraction that would be included in its revised town plan. The revisions have been ongoing for the past couple of years and the planning commission hopes to have the proposed draft completed for selectboard review this fall. It has finally put a full-court press on gathering public opinion on this controversial topic — but, hey, better late than never.The gravel extraction ordinance specifically falls under Section 526 in of the town’s zoning ordinances (as distinct from the town plan) and would require a rewrite of this ordinance, but the hope is that public approval would be reflected in more generic wording within the town plan, as well, so both documents reflected the public will.But getting an accurate sense of the public will on the topic has not been easy. Throughout the past couple of years, an active group of opponents has shadowed the issue at numerous public hearings and have circulated a petition opposing a gravel pit that was proposed near the village center. Even a town survey indicated that a gravel pit too close to the town center was not acceptable, while the general public did agree that gravel extraction should be allowed within the town.At its Tuesday meeting last week, Planning Commission Chairman Tom Wells noted that the commission had invited gravel pit owners (and others involved in the extraction business) to review an early release of a draft gravel extraction ordinance several weeks ago, but had not heard from the general public on the revised ordinance they had proposed. For that reason, he said, the commission was making a special effort to solicit comments from the general public.“We’ve had a great deal of great input from the pit owners,” Wells said, concerning their draft ordinance. “We need to make an effort to make sure that the people who don’t feel so strongly about the pits get an opportunity to come and talk to us as well. We need to hear everybody so that we can reach our conclusions.”Among the ways to solicit that input will be putting the draft extraction ordinance on the town’s Web site; setting up suggestion boxes around Bristol and reaching out to more individuals in town in various ways. Residents will have until Sept. 1 to comment, at which time the commission will convene again to take up the issue.We encourage residents to take advantage of this opportunity and let the commission know precisely how you feel. What are the options? Here are a few: • Residents who have been opposed to gravel extraction at the proposed Lathrop site, could oppose gravel extraction in districts that would be too near the town center for aesthetic, noise or traffic considerations. They could suggest that the zoning districts in the immediate downtown and core residential areas, including the two mixed zones that are within the village’s core residential/business districts nearest the downtown, be excluded from gravel extraction. This follows the draft plan fairly closely, but adds the suggested mixed districts, which would include the proposed Lathrop site and the former Autumn Harp site.• Residents could read the draft and think it was fine, even though gravel extraction would be allowed at the proposed Lathrop site as well as in the other mixed zone surrounded by residential houses that was formerly occupied by Autumn Harp.• Residents could take the approach favored by those in the gravel extraction business that no limits be put on gravel extraction within a specific ordinance, but rather limit gravel extraction permits through the conditional use process. That allows all districts within the town to be open to resource extraction, but would be subject to specific limitations codified in how the zoning board of adjustment decides to define the conditional use restrictions at the time.• Or any other scenario that might be contemplated.We favor the first scenario, in which the specific districts of the core village area are excluded — including the mixed use districts — with conditional use permits applicable to allowing resource extraction in the remaining zoning districts within the town. (Note: there is no definitive terminology in the plan as ‘core village’ as used by some opponents, but the idea is obvious — it would include the downtown, the primary village residential areas, and the two mixed-used districts closest to the downtown/village center.)But others options make equally good sense depending on one’s personal perspective. We encourage all residents to take advantage of this opportunity to comment either by directly responding to town officials, by sending comments to this newspaper, or by participating in future polls. But put your opinion in writing, one way or the other. It’s a more forceful and accurate way for commission members to get an idea of precisely how the public wants the commission to proceed. It is the public’s plan, after all, and commission members need residents’ feedback before they can reflect those wishes correctly.