Bristol board to delay town plan revision

BRISTOL — After pushing hard for months to advance a new draft of the Bristol Town Plan and a proposed extraction ordinance, planners in Bristol are taking the foot off the gas. With still no consensus at hand in the contentious debate over gravel mining in the town, the planning commission is saying another year could pass before the issue comes to another vote.
The sea change comes after four town forums on the gravel issue, which the planning commission had hoped would provide some insight into how best to revise a town plan and zoning ordinance that voters knocked down by a nearly two-to-one margin on Town Meeting Day.
A widely held view in town is that the “no” votes came because a majority of voters did not feel the plan or zoning ordinance did enough to restrict gravel mining in Bristol.
But what consensus on the issue was building dissolved in the fourth forum, held this month, said planning commission chairman Tom Wells, as more and more residents who are connected to the gravel industry turned out at each consecutive meeting to weigh in.
As Wells and planning commission vice chair Chico Martin tried to draft changes to the plan and ordinance in the wake of the meetings, Wells said it became clear that racing to meet a self-imposed deadline for a November revote would be counterproductive.
“He and I both recommended to the planning commission that we not continue on that particular schedule,” Wells said. “We had not reached enough consensus that we could confidently make drafting changes.”
So the planning commission last week decided to slow down and take a new tack on planning: In addition to reconsidering the town plan and ordinance, the commission plans to “fold in” a conversation about redrawing the town’s zoning boundaries.
Preliminary work on the process of redefining zones in the plan has already begun. Ironing out more sensible zones could eliminate the need for an overlay district or radius restriction on gravel mining, proposals that Wells said didn’t gain consistent traction at the town forums.
Currently, the commission is discussing the possibility of eliminating the “MIX” zone, and drawing clearer lines defining the town’s downtown region. 
“The town continues to be deeply divided on the issue of (sand and gravel) extraction, and unfortunately that is the tail wagging the dog a little on the issue of the plan,” Wells said.
The current town plan will remain in effect until January 2012, allowing the commission a little wiggle room to revise and put out to vote a new plan.
The commission will spend its next two meetings talking about the process of town planning, and working on ways to bring more voices to the table for the discussion.
Wells said he’s more concerned about the planning commission’s level of exhaustion than he is about the public losing interest in a planning process that’s picked up steam over the last six months.
“It’s not easy after five years to retrench and do it over again,” Wells said.
Reporter Kathryn Flagg is at [email protected].

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