Bristol weighs in on extraction

BRISTOL — The results of a poll taken among people who voted in Bristol on Town Meeting Day could point the town toward adoption of the first full update of the Bristol Town Plan in nearly a decade.
The Bristol Planning Commission’s two-question poll offered to voters as they left Holley Hall on Tuesday sought to determine residents’ sentiments regarding where to permit and where to prohibit gravel and sand extraction in town — the hottest issue debated during the years-long creation of a town plan update.
The results were lopsided on one question, with 69 percent of the 396 voters favoring the  prohibition of extraction in the downtown district. The tally was 275 for prohibition and 121 against, with half of the participants also providing comments for the planning commission to mull over.
On the other question, residents voted 58-42 percent against allowing natural resource extraction in privately owned land in Bristol’s Conservation District. The actual vote totals were 236 opposed and 170 in favor, with more than half providing written comments.
The commission included maps of the downtown and conservation district on its poll to clarify the issue for voters.
In looking at this result, planning commission chairman Tom Wells said the “downtown area is basically decided.” However, Wells noted that a slim margin of support on the second question implies that “the conservation zone is less decided.”
A town plan is a visionary document that acts as a guide for land use in a community and creates the framework upon which zoning bylaws are created. Although the Bristol Planning Commission has worked on extensive rewrites to the town plan — the last update put before voters in 2010 increased in size from a dozen to 110 pages — consensus could not be found over gravel and sand extraction.
Town residents are concerned about the proximity of extraction to downtown and the Bristol Conservation District. Among their concerns are that extraction operations in these areas would result in noise pollution, heavy truck traffic, erosion, blasting and excessive dust and vibrations. Hours of operation of these practices have also been raised as a concern.
On the other side of the debate, many residents want to quarry sand and gravel within the bounds of their private property. One of the primary disputes is over whether extraction from within a person’s private property will or will not impinge upon other town residents.
“This half-a-page issue of extraction is part of a 100-plus page document that has held the entire town plan hostage,” Wells said.
Since the present interim town plan expires at the end of 2011, the planning commission seeks to provide voters with a revised town plan to vote on by November. The adoption of a new town plan is contingent on whether residents can agree upon prohibited and permitted extraction zones.
Some of the rancorous debate over the town plan has centered around a proposed pit that would be sited on private land off South Street near the village.
Local activist John Moyers, a vocal opponent of the Lathrop pit, said the results of last Tuesday’s poll should make it clear to town officials what it should do next.
“Maybe the clear results will finally convince the selectboard and planning commission that those of us who have opposed the Lathrop pit for seven years are more than just a vocal minority,” he said.
Wells said that the planning commission wants input from both ends of the contention so that members can make a better-informed decision. 
The planning commission meets next on April 5 at 7 p.m. in the town offices.
“Everybody won’t be satisfied,” said Wells.
“I encourage people to come to our meeting, and tell us what you think,” he added.
Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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