New Bristol gravel rules head to selectboard
BRISTOL — Bristol town planners late in December brought to a close the months-long process of drafting a new gravel, sand and earth extraction ordinance for the town, shuttling the proposed document to the selectboard and setting up a possible Town Meeting Day vote on the new rules.
At a Dec. 23 public hearing, the Bristol Planning Commission took one last round of comments from the public on the proposed ordinance, which if approved would replace Section 526 in the town’s zoning bylaws.
Residents who turned out for the hearing expressed concern — both about the draft itself, which has drawn repeated criticism from opponents of gravel pits in town, and about the timing of the hearing so close to the holidays.
“I’m trying to deal with the fact that it’s the 23rd of December and we’re having this meeting when anybody in their right mind is out Christmas shopping, getting ready for family, have left town, are leaving town. This is ridiculous that we’re trying to have a substantive input from the public on the 23rd,” said Kevin Harper, a Bristol business owner.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” Harper said, adding that he knew of at least a half-dozen residents who were interested in the issue but were unable to attend the meeting because of holiday plans.
Planning commission chair Tom Wells, though, followed up by pointing out that the Dec. 23 meeting marked the 11th opportunity that Bristol residents had to weigh in on the gravel extraction rules.
Still, residents had plenty of worries to air to the commission.
Again, as at past meetings, town members — among them Mary Ann Rueger and Slim Pickens — voiced frustration that the planning commission had included the conservation zone on the list of zones where gravel could, if an operation meets certain restrictions, be allowed.
Another common concern raised at the meeting was that the noise levels specified in the draft ordinance had been set too high, and neighbors and other residents would be subject to high noise levels during a gravel pit’s hours of operation.
Bruce Acciavatti also suggested that the board consider working impact fees into the ordinance to make sure that businesses operating under the rules pay a share of the damage being done to roads and town infrastructure as a result of their trucking — a suggestion that Wells said the board considered, but wanted to look at on a town-wide basis inside of just in relation to gravel pits.
In other comments, Harper indicated that he was uncomfortable with the amount of discretion he feels the proposed rules would give the Zoning Board of Adjustments when it comes to regulating pit operations.
As the public hearing wound down, Pickens voiced frustration at what he’d heard so far that evening.
“This is what I’ve heard,” he said. “You’ve included the conservation zone as a suitable place for mining. You have reduced setbacks for extraction projects, allowed hours on holidays and weekends from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. for these noisy procedures, also reduced the noise protection … assessed no impact fees, (and) admitted that enforcement is problematic. Now, I always thought the job of zoning in general was to protect what’s already here while managing whatever growth we might be getting. What in this draft protects the people who are already here?”
But town officials were more supportive of the draft. Town Administrator Bill Bryant, sitting in for clerk Lisa Dupoise to take the minutes on Dec. 23, said that as the town’s zoning administrator he thought the proposed rules were “a lot tougher than anything we have in the ordinance right now.”
Following the hearing, the board debated some of the concerns brought up by residents. In one of the biggest changes the board made to the draft, planning commission members agreed to ramp up setback requirements in response to an outcry from pit opponents that a 100-foot setback for extraction activities and equipment was too small.
In the town’s current zoning ordinance, Section 526 sets the setback for these activities at 200 feet — one of the only hard and fast rules governing extraction in the current rules.
Commissioner Chico Garland voiced concern that it was “really a mistake” for the board to relax that requirement, though other board members pointed out that the new draft adds ample other restrictions in addition to setback distances. In the end, though, Peter Grant and Ken Weston agreed with Garland, and the three members voted in favor of — while Willow Wheelock voted against — instating a minimum 200-foot setback. The rule means that no extraction activities or equipment can be located within 200 feet of a gravel pit’s property lines.
The board also made concessions for residents concerned about hours of operation, slightly tightening workday working hours as well as eliminating business on Sundays and legal holidays.
On the issue of noise concerns, though, commissioners decided against making any changes. They also decided to hold their ground on allowing gravel extraction in the conservation zone, arguing that as a practical matter very little gravel exists in the zone in the first place, and voicing concerns that forbidding extraction there may set a precedent for banning activities like forestry, development and recreation in the zone.
Following the Dec. 23 meeting, the commission passed on the draft extraction ordinance to the selectboard. The finalized draft can be downloaded by visiting www.bristolvt.net and heading to the “Planning Commission” page under “committees.”