Bristol rethinking extraction
BRISTOL — Deadlocked over where to draw the boundaries for a zone where gravel extraction would be prohibited, the Bristol Planning Commission on Tuesday decided to throw out the conflicting maps they had been working on and restart the process of defining the zone.
Discussion of the extraction prohibition zone in the long-awaited Bristol Town Plan update was the main item on the planners’ agenda, but some suggested that defining such a zone on a map wasn’t even appropriate for the plan, but that it should instead be delineated in new zoning bylaws. Zoning is supposed to follow the vision laid out in a town plan.
“This map is zoning, not planning. The (town plan) is visionary,” commission member Kris Perlee said. “Maps aren’t planning, it’s zoning.”
“Maps are vision,” planner John Elder countered, saying the public looks at them to get a sense for what is important to the town. Acknowledging Perlee’s point, Elder said that by putting a no-extraction area in the new town plan, the commission would be showing that it valued and wished to protect a compact village.
Unable to come to a consensus, the eight commission members agreed to come to their next meeting, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. at the town offices in Holley Hall, ready to discuss the process in which they were involved.
Process has been a central point in the massive rewrite of the plan. Over the years the update has been proceeding the commissioners have held public forums and last spring took a poll on the most contentious issue — gravel extraction. In September, the commission held a public hearing on their final town plan proposal.
Before passing the proposal on to the selectboard, however, questions arose about a change in the boundaries on a map that defined an extraction prohibition zone south of Bristol village. Perlee explained at Tuesday’s meeting that when he was looking at a map of the zone it didn’t seem to correspond with what he recalled as the boundaries spelled out in the text of the town plan proposal. So he looked at definitions in the text of several different zones and tweaked the no-extraction zone on the map.
“The map we were working on in September 2011 was just wrong,” Acting Chair Chico Martin explained. Earlier he had said, “We spent a lot of time on the text (of the town plan), but no one here at the table worked on maps. This is a breakdown.”
It became clear at the meeting that the planning commission had many maps to juggle, maps created by as many as four different consultants.
“Right now we’re blindly drawing maps based on old maps and outside consultants and we’re muddling them,” Perlee said. “I’m uncomfortable with that.”
At one point, Martin recessed the meeting and broke the commission into two smaller groups that discussed a compromise. When they returned to the same table, a group that included Elder and commissioners Walter “Skimmer” Hellier, Susan Kavanagh and Willow Wheelock presented a version of the extraction prohibition zone map that was expanded in a few spots and shrunk in others.
The group that included planners Martin, Perlee, Bill Sayre and Ken Weston said they had deeper concerns about the process itself, in particular that defining this gravel extraction prohibition zone would amount to illegal “spot zoning” and that it would unfairly set a double standard for private property and town property.
Planning commission members weren’t the only ones who were uneasy about the process. During the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting several of the more than two-dozen visitors said they thought there was consensus in town over the need to have a no-extraction zone. Slim Pickens said that in 2006, around 60 percent of Bristol residents said they didn’t want gravel extraction near downtown, that voters then rejected a town plan update that didn’t have a no-extraction zone, and that a majority of participants of town forums on planning two years ago favored extraction prohibition near the village.
“I think these conservation zones around downtown should be in a (gravel mining) exclusion zone,” he said.
The individual who in some sense is at the center of the question then spoke. Jim Lathrop, whose family has proposed a gravel operation south of the village in an area encompassed in part by various extraction prohibition zones, told the commissioners, “You are treading on thin ice here — legally.
“A man’s land is his castle,” Lathrop said. “When you use a man’s property as a zone to prohibit extraction, that’s discrimination. You wouldn’t like it if it happened to you.”
Referring to his long-running legal battle to secure a state permit to start up the proposed gravel operation on the 65-acre tract off Notch Road and Rounds Road, Lathrop warned commissioners to take care when drawing zones in the town plan.
“If I win in court, then you’ll have to go back and change it all,” he said.
Reporter John McCright is at [email protected].
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