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Bristol town plan draft features a no-extraction zone

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission next Tuesday will publicly unveil a new draft of the proposed town plan for the first time since its previous proposal was voted down in March 2010. At a hearing on Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Holley Hall, planners will explain the draft and field comments from local residents.
Although hundreds of editorial changes have been made to the proposal defeated last year, commission chairman Tom Wells said the new draft contains only one large material change: the introduction of a no-extraction zone, which prohibits gravel and sand extraction in a region that encompasses the  downtown district and several surrounding zones.
Wells explained that the commission created the no-extraction zone based on public sentiment — a 2006 survey found that 68.4 percent of Bristol residents who took part opposed extraction in downtown Bristol, and then a poll taken outside the polling station on Town Meeting Day last March found that 69 percent of voters opposed extraction in and around the downtown district.
A major point of dispute between Bristol resident Jim Lathrop — whose proposed gravel pit is currently tied up in litigation and sits within the proposed no-extraction zone — and opponents of the pit proposal is the different ways that both sides interpret Section 526 of the town zoning bylaws, which pertain to extraction. The decision to create the no-extraction zone, said Wells, is meant, in part, to clarify this issue.
“As for the rest of the town (including the conservation zones), we’re saying extraction is permitted, but under restricted circumstances,” said Wells in a Tuesday interview.
“Eventually we’re likely to put in place an extraction ordinance that would make it very clear how you could extract in other places,” he said. “As a practical manner you won’t be able to extract in circumstances where you’re creating a problem for your neighbors. But in that prohibited zone, it’s just plain prohibited.”
The planning commission is just beginning to reframe the town’s zoning bylaws.
Another major change that Bristol residents might notice is the plan’s vastly reduced number of pages. Where proposed drafts in recent years stretched upwards of 120 pages, the new version is only 68 pages long.
Wells said that the decrease in page numbers isn’t due to a decrease in content, but rather a reformatting of the document. The proposed town plan and its 162-page appendix can be found in the upper-right hand corner of the town website at bristolvt.net.
Wells has repeatedly articulated over the past year that the town plan is meant to act as a visionary document by which to guide town governance.
In an interview with the Independent earlier this summer, Executive Director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission Adam Lougee backed this assertion.
“The town plan is generally meant to be a visionary statement and a guide for the town,” he said.
The following addition to the new proposed plan clearly gives the document the necessary weight to carry out this role:
“The Planning Commission, Selectboard, and Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) or their successor will only approve land use changes and proposed projects that in their judgments conform to the entire Town Plan,” reads a sentence on page three (page nine of the PDF file) of the proposed plan.
THE PLAN’S FUTURE
On Tuesday, the planning commission will explain the proposed plan and take comments and questions from the public. The planners will then deliberate on all comments, said Wells.
“If we make extensive changes, I would think that we’d probably have another public hearing. If we don’t, we’re likely to send it onto the selectboard as is, or with minor changes,” he said.  “Once the selectboard gets it, they need about four or five months because they have to deliberate on it. The selectboard has to have a minimum of two public hearings and then (the proposed plan) would go to the voters.”
The plan will likely reach voters next year at the November presidential election, indicated Wells, who said the document probably wouldn’t be ready for voters by Town Meeting Day.
At the end of the year, however, the current town plan expires. So Bristol could go without a plan for 11 months.
Wells said that being plan-less shouldn’t inhibit the town. Planners won’t be able to apply for municipal planning grants, but Wells said they don’t have plans to pursue these sources of funding. Without a plan, however, the planning commission won’t be able to enact any changes to zoning ordinances.
Furthermore, if a legal dispute should arise over zoning regulations while the ZBA doesn’t have an active plan to follow, Wells is unsure how such a dispute might proceed. 
Reporter Andrew Stein is at andrews@addisonindependent.com.

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