Bristol OKs extraction zone maps

BRISTOL — With roughly 15 visitors scrutinizing their every move, Bristol planners at a Tuesday meeting approved two maps for the land-use section of the new town plan that indicate where gravel extraction would be prohibited in town.
Members of the Bristol Planning Commission hope this will resolve an issue that has long divided the town and enable them to put an updated town plan to voters in November.
The maps reframe the Bristol downtown area as a land-use zone that is “pro-residential” and “pro-light industry,” rather than an extraction prohibition zone. Nevertheless, the new land-use zone — currently called the Village Planning Area — would still prohibit gravel extraction.
Where is Bristol’s Gravel?
People in the town of Bristol have long been divided over a controversy surrounding gravel extraction near downtown.
Although the planning and conservation commissions are working with the U.S. Geological Survey to have new geologic and hydrologic maps of the region drawn up, a 2009 map called “Gravel and Sand Deposits in the Town of Bristol” shows where many large deposits are. The Addison County Regional Planning Commission created the map. Those interested in seeing it can see it in the Planning Commission binder in the Bristol town office.
At the Bristol Planning Commission’s Tuesday night meeting, planner John Elder showed the map to those in attendance. 
“If you want to know where you can get (the majority of) gravel in Bristol it’s right where we’re sitting in (Holley Hall) and all the way up through North Street.”
Essentially, downtown Bristol sits on an enormous mound of gravel. 
The other big change is that the conservation zone would prohibit commercial gravel extraction, with the exception that current gravel mining operations in that zone would have what planners call “super grandfather” rights that would protect owners’ operations and allow them to grow within their present properties.
The planners indicated that the two maps (the downtown-area map can be viewed above) would be the basis for a revised land-use section of the plan. The language that will be associated with the two maps is still up for debate, and planners will send acting Chair Chico Martin a slate of revised verbiage over the next two weeks. Planners will meet March 6 at 7 p.m. in Howden Hall in hopes of ironing out land-use section 12 of the town plan and send the completed document to the selectboard for its review.Although sand and gravel extraction for resale would be prohibited in the Village Planning Area, as the plan stands now, the processing of such material would be permitted if its main use were for on-site development.
For more than a month leading up to Tuesday’s three-plus-hour meeting, planners John Elder and Kris Perlee ironed out these two maps based on previous planning commission proposals and conversations. Although the map for the Village Planning Area outlines a space larger than former iterations, the planners on Tuesday ultimately agreed that it is fairer and based in principle.
“While some portray this proposal as a gravel prohibition plan, I view it as a growth plan,” said Perlee. “Proper residential growth is the focus, and gravel use is just a byproduct of such planning. I believe that this proposal is one we should be able to agree upon and move the town plan forward.”
He then reminded everyone why the planning commission exists — for Bristol’s future.
“I was sitting in my office plowing through the numerous maps and documents, when my 11-year-old daughter came and asked me what I was doing,” said Perlee. “I explained to her that I was trying to help plan the future of the town and where things should go. She had a bunch more questions, we went back and forth and then she finally looked at me — as only an 11-year-old can — and said, ‘Daddy, just make sure I can still climb trees in the park.’”
The planning commission received overwhelming praise from those in attendance Tuesday. But both planners and townspeople alike still had concerns with the maps and present language in the plan. Among those that expressed concern were:
•  Planner Bill Sayre, who thinks expanded residential and light-industry use in the downtown will create greater traffic problems than gravel extraction would. Local businessman Kevin Harper, who manages the Bristol Works business park, countered Sayre by explaining that if people worked, lived and shopped in a compact village area, people would drive less. Sayre didn’t buy this argument.
•  Martin, who is worried that expanded residential and light-industry will raise tax rates. Sayre told Martin that such projections depend on certain assumptions. For example, if residents had their own septic tanks rather than tapping into the sewer system, sewer system growth wouldn’t be necessary. Local property owner John Moyer also touted light-industry businesses for their tax-generating potential.
•  Moyers and planner Willow Wheelock, who are concerned that the plan’s verbiage needs to be standardized. Moyers asked the planning commission to use the word “is” rather than “would,” “will,” and “shall.”
•  Harper and many others, who want language that outlaws light industrial parks in the Village Planning Area removed from the land-use section. Martin explained that this language was a mistake and will be removed. 
•  Harper also worried that some of the land-use zones divide certain properties. But the planners explained that “spot planning” based on property lines isn’t a fair practice and that many towns have properties that sit in more than one land-use zone. 
After listening to everyone’s questions and concerns, the planners weren’t sure what to do. But Elder, concerned that three hours of hard work would be in vain, pushed through forcefully at the end of the night to make sure something was adopted. In the end, the planners agreed to the two maps and a further discussion of the associated language.
“Though this is not a perfect process, if we come out of this with a strong consensus in the planning commission … (and) move forward to give the town a vote … we will have gotten rid of a decade of toxic controversy,” he said. “I hope both members of the planning commission and the town will realize what a big deal that is and hold our breath when we walk by corners we don’t like.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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