Bristol residents discuss plan update at hearing
BRISTOL — Bristol townspeople voiced concerns over a proposed town plan update at a Tuesday public hearing, where they prodded the planning commission to add more information to the plan about extraction in the conservation area and ambiguous wording in crucial sections of the document while raising other issues that could impede the plan’s adoption.
The only major substantive change to the plan highlighted by Bristol Planning Commission chairman Tom Wells was the new no-extraction zone, which prohibits gravel and sand extraction in a region that encompasses the downtown district and several surrounding zones.
But some residents at Tuesday’s hearing took issue with several elements of the new plan, particularly the planning commission’s decision to allow extraction in the conservation zones in spite of popular sentiment to prohibit such activity. On Town Meeting Day, 58 percent of residents who participated in a planning commission poll said they favored prohibition of extraction on privately owned land in the conservation district. The planning commission, however, this summer voted 4-3 in favor of permitting extraction.
“People expressed their sentiments about the conservation area and it seems to me … folks were discounted,” said Bruce Acciavatti, former chairman of the conservation commission.
Planner Kris Perlee explained that the town plan as a document may not be addressed for another decade after its adopted this time around, and valuable resources that aren’t next to environmentally sensitive regions shouldn’t be restricted.
“As far as prohibiting (extraction) in the conservation zone in the town plan, it didn’t make a lot of sense from the standpoint that we’re in the middle of trying to study this (area),” he said. “We can handle this at the zoning level and in individual ordinances if need be. Those we can do much quicker and more rapidly once the town plan has been adopted.”
Many at the meeting were still unconvinced.
“I want to see this plan pass,” said local business owner Kevin Harper. “But the conservation district … it could be a deal breaker.”
The solution that Harper and Pete Diminico, vice-chair of the conservation commission, proposed is to have a moratorium on gravel extraction in the conservation area until a geologic study of the area is completed. This study conducted by the conservation commission in conjunction with the United States Geological Survey would reveal where resources are in relation to environmentally sensitive areas. Diminico did not mention how far this study has progressed, if at all.
“It seems to me if we don’t know where environmentally sensitive areas are relative to where resources might be … why would we allow (extraction)?” resident John Moyers asked the planning commission.
AMBIGUITY IN THE PLAN
The other major point of public criticism was ambiguity in the plan. Numerous townspeople explained that they wanted extraction to be explicitly stated as permitted or prohibited in the conservation area.
Rather than explicitly allowing extraction in the conservation zones, planner Willow Wheelock explained, “We chose to not disallow it.”
Moyers replied that he objects to ambiguity in the plan, telling the commission, “Please make (extraction) explicit … make it clear.”
Bristol resident Steve Brown also explained that certain wording in the plan placed the voter between a rock and a hard place.
“I think you can understand the reservation that people like myself may have with signing off (on this plan) without any clearer understanding about where (extraction is permitted and prohibited),” he said. “If you cannot come to that (consensus) and describe that to us, it puts the voter in a pretty difficult position.”
Chairman Wells explained that between Act 250 — the state’s land-use law — and local regulations, extraction would be controlled. The reason that the downtown area will be clearly defined as a no-extraction zone, he said, is because public opinion has repeatedly shown that mining should not be allowed in the area.
“We’re saying the core downtown … needs additional protection because it just makes no sense there, not so much because of environmental sensitivity but because of the amount of people,” said Wells. “We’re saying under no circumstances would you ever be able to extract there because of the density of people in that area.”
Another area of linguistic contention at the hearing was the use of “will” and should.”
Harper grilled the planning commission for the use of “should” in a crucial sentence of the plan on page 53, which reads: “It has been determined that the area prohibiting extraction should be expanded to include all of the above listed zones…”
“If you mean it then say it,” said Harper. “Should is not will, will is not should.”
Wells explained that the planning commission is in the process of drawing new zones and that he didn’t want to lock down the plan to the existing zones, especially since they will likely change. He also explained that the no-extraction zone could be difficult to follow because it was drawn with future zones in mind.
“The Prohibition zone doesn’t actually follow any existing zoning lines because we’re in the process of studying the zones to change them,” said Wells. “That’s why it sort of stands alone as its own representation of where extraction would be prohibited.”
The map provided in the appendix of the plan will be the ultimate guide for outlining the area that the no-extraction zone encompasses, added Wells.
Other comments and concerns voiced at the meeting were:
• Jim Lathrop requested that language about wood chips used for fuel be added to the energy section of the plan. He also requested that rules be relaxed surrounding the selling of resources during the construction phase of building a housing or commercial development.
Currently, page 52 of the plan states: “It is also understood that extraction may be necessary as a by-product of preparing a site for other types of development, and that material extracted for this reason can be sold commercially, as long as such extraction does not constitute a large-scale commercial endeavor with on-site processing and is undertaken in compliance of any regulations applicable to extraction as a principal use of land.”
Lathrop indicated that he would like to see that language altered because Act 250 allows more leeway than does this verbiage.
• Pete Diminico asked for the addition of language encouraging eco-tourism to the plan.
• Resident Andy Jackson made the case for expanding the no-extraction zone to cover the town-owned property between Lovers Lane and Stoney Hill Road, saying that the town doesn’t plan to extract there and that it protrudes close to downtown.
• Moyers requested that the no-extraction zone be given an official label.
• Harper commended the planning commission for its work on the economic development portion of the plan.
The planners did not deliberate at this meeting. Wells said that they will deliberate on the public’s comments at their Oct. 18, meeting. He has said the town plan could be voted on by the public at large in November 2012.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at email@example.com.