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Bristol board begins update of zoning laws

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission is gearing up to start another round of attempted revisions to the town’s zoning regulations over the course of the next eight weeks.
At their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 19, and at those following, members of the planning commission will review the five downtown zones — Village Business, Village Mixed, General Business, Village Residential 3 and Village Residential 2. Members of the commission will also address the Conservation Zone, in as far as it relates to gravel extraction and to the area where this particular zone nudges the downtown.
Extraction is slated to be a hot topic yet again as members of the commission will be working toward drafting zoning regulations that will satisfy voters. In March, Bristol residents voted down the town plan and gravel-extraction zoning ordinance proposed by the planning commission by an almost two-to-one margin.
Opponents to the rejected plan — which took the commission five years to draft — have feared that zoning in the village, as proposed, would pave the way for approval of the Lathrop gravel pit project off South Street. Others opposed to the plan argued that town-wide communications issued by the commission had been biased.
The planning commission is encouraging as much resident feedback as possible throughout the review process.
After the plan was defeated in March, the planning commission held a series of four open forums in an attempt to solicit feedback on the town plan and how it could be improved. According to Chairman Tom Wells, the commission received a great deal of feedback from the public at their meetings convened during the summer and early fall.
“We’re still trying to find a common ground that we can vote on,” Wells said, explaining that input from Bristol residents will be key in the revision process.
In June, after the four forums took place, members of the planning commission recognized that their goal of a November revote might not become reality. Wells and Vice Chairman Chico Martin were hesitant to continue at the original pace they had set, as they had not yet reached a consensus among residents on what in the plan needed to be altered.
On Wednesday, Wells outlined a timeline for the revisions that set aside the next five weeks for “long, hard working sessions.” In January, the commission hopes to hold additional open forums, and in late February and early March, a poll will be presented to the public that will address the new zoning proposal that the commission is currently working to draft.
The idea, Wells said, is to present the new plan to voters in full, being “highly specific,” in alignment with the town meeting and to get as much feedback on it as possible. The members of the commission will then use that feedback to reshape their plan into something they can put to a public vote during the fall of 2011.
Though it looks like it will be nearly a year before another vote reaches the public, Wells and the rest of the planning commission are already laying groundwork. The commission has teamed up, once again, with Noelle Mackay, a consultant from Smart Growth Vermont, to start the rezoning process.
Redefining zones is a priority for the group — redrawing zoning lines is usually held off until after a town plan is accepted, but the planning commission has reversed the order this time in an attempt to make headway on a plan and zoning regulations that voters can agree on.
This fall, the planning commission will be unable to take pubic comment at the start of every meeting due to time constraints — only at the first meeting of each month will general public comments be accepted. But members are encouraging Bristol residents to offer input throughout the process. Wells and the rest of the commission encourage voters to register to join the commission’s e-mail distribution list and to attend the meetings, the first of which is scheduled for Oct. 19 at 7 p.m. at the town offices.
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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