Bristol board questions revised draft of town plan

BRISTOL — In preparation for the Bristol selectboard’s May 14 public hearing on the new draft of the town plan, the board met with the town’s planning commission at its Monday meeting (to read the draft, click here).
Selectwoman Carol Wells, wife of former planning commission Chair Tom Wells, took issue with the plan’s lack of clarity surrounding a key component: resource extraction.
Language in the plan states that commercial extraction operations are to be prohibited in the downtown Village Planning and Rural Conservation Planning areas. But Wells pointed out that, as the draft is currently written, extraction prohibition isn’t listed under policies. Policy statements, Wells maintained, hold the greatest weight over future Act 250 proceedings — state legal hearings that determine whether large commercial developments, like extraction operations, are permitted. Such policy statements can be found at the end of each section of the draft under the heading of “Policies.”
New Bristol Town Officers
BRISTOL — At the Bristol selectboard’s Monday meeting, the board selected community members for a range of town positions.
The board appointed:
•  Incumbents Bill Sayre and Ken Weston and newcomer Katie Raycroft-Meyer to three-year terms on the Bristol planning commission.
•  Incumbent John Elder to a one-year term on the planning commission.
•  Incumbents Bob Stetson, Paul Jackman and Brenda Tilberg to three-year terms on the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
•  Incumbent Dan Werme and former planning commission Chair Tom Wells to three-year terms on the Revolving Loan Fund Committee.
•  James Quaglino, Larry Gile and David Lawyer to two-year terms on the Police Advisory Board.
•  John Kromer, Robert Blaise and George Smith to one-year terms on the Police Advisory Board.
Under the article within the plan, titled “Interpreting the Plan,” it states: “In certain settings, such as during Board of Adjustment hearings or Act 250 proceedings, policy statements should serve as the basis for determining a project’s conformance with the plan. While other sections of the plan, in particular the narrative sections and goal statements, provide useful context for understanding the policies, it is the policies alone that serve as the final statement regarding the town’s position.”
The lack of a clear statement of policy on resource extraction is an obvious point of concern, she said.
In an effort to stave off future disputes, Wells asked Chico Martin, acting chair of the planning commission, why the language barring extraction in certain zones wasn’t included in the policy statements.
“We don’t state anything that we’re permitting in the planning areas, so why would we single out one?” said Martin.
“To make it clear,” said Wells. “I’m just trying to prevent what we’ve been involved with for the past eight years and make this plan as clear as possible.”
Martin then explained that new zoning ordinances, which the planning commission is currently working on, would contain an extraction ordinance to clarify this confusion.
But in Bristol, the town plan carries more legal power than it does in many other towns. When a large commercial or industrial development triggers review by a state board under Act 250, the board uses 10 criteria to determine if a project should receive a state permit. One of those criteria — the 10th — hinges on a project’s compliance with a town plan.
The reason the town plan for Bristol has especially large influence over development proceedings is that the town doesn’t have subdivision regulations. That means any commercial development over one acre requires Act 250 review. In towns with subdivision regulations, smaller projects don’t necessarily require Act 250 review unless the project is more than 10 acres.
While the board scrutinized this central part of the plan, it commended the planners for their years of hard work on the document.
Martin said that he thinks the new plan will end years of quarreling over extraction.
“We’re very proud … to present to you a town plan that we think addresses the needs of the town and is also one that the town will support after so much contention,” he said. “We believe that this is a plan that will put that contention to rest.”
At Monday’s meeting, Town Administrator Bill Bryant stressed the importance of early public participation in reviewing the new town plan draft and he strongly encouraged Bristol residents to attend the May 14 public hearing.
After the Bristol village and town merged in 1995, the selectboard had the authority under Vermont statute to adopt new town plans and zoning ordinances autonomously. But Bristol residents voted to put that power in public hands and approve new plans and ordinances by Australian ballot.
As part of this process, the selectboard must hold at least two public hearings on the plan. After those hearings the board can make minor grammatical and syntactical changes, but if any substantial changes are made to the plan, an additional two public hearings are required.
Bryant, looking into NEATV’s video camera, addressed the public.
“If you come out early, and the selectboard after one hearing decides to make (substantive) changes, they still have to hold two more hearings,” he said. “But at a certain point, it’s kind of like chasing your tail. The board has got to stop making changes in order to get through the process in order to give the voters a chance to vote on the document. So, it’s important to come out earlier in the process.”
A copy of the new town plan draft is available at addisonindependent.com, or in the Bristol town offices.
In other news from the Bristol meeting, the selectboard:
•  Approved the allocation of $3,000 to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission to assist the planning commission in drawing up new zoning ordinances, which would accompany the new plan if it passes. Town Administrator Bill Bryant said that if the planning commission needs more assistance after July 1, there’s $8,000 in the budget to fund that help.
•  Met with concerned resident Wendy Carter to discuss the dangers posed by the western-most diagonal parking spaces on the north side of Main Street — the last ones before the alley next to the National Bank of Middlebury. The selectboard shared Carter’s concern and are looking at possibilities to remedy the situation, like rearranging spaces or putting up some sort of signage.
•  Authorized up to $2,000 for a new camera surveillance system to be installed in the Bristol Police Department’s headquarters.
•  Met with artist Reed Prescott about an outdoor art project using large rocks, across from Lord’s Prayer Rock on Routes 116 and 17. The selectboard did not grant him permission to work on this project because they felt he was placing himself in possible danger.
•  Approved grant applications from the Bristol Fire Department for installing dry hydrants, which are hydrants that pull from natural water sources, like ponds and streams. The two projects would cost $3,200 and $5,600, respectively, and would require a 25 percent match from the town. Bryant said that Heffernan Excavating Inc. was willing to cover the town’s portion of the grant, if the company took on the job. Selectboard Chair Peeker Heffernan, who is also the town fire chief, also explained there were two other dry hydrants that required fixing after incurring damage from Tropical Storm Irene. He said the repairs would cost under $1,000, but was not sure how the town would allocate that expense.
•  Approved a Department of Homeland Security grant application from Bristol Fire Department Assistant Chief Brett LaRose for new department pagers and radios. The grant is for $8,025 and won’t require a local match.
•  Approved a road grant through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for portable stoplights. These lights would replace workers with signs at road construction sites. The portable lights would cost $13,562 and the grant covers $5,000 of that. Bryant said that Road Foreman Pete Bouvier thinks he can find the extra funds in his budget.
“This would save a lot of time and cost when we need to bring in outside firms to flag or when we have one or two guys flagging when those guys could be operating dump trucks,” said Bryant.
•  Agreed to let Bryant and Heffernan sell a 2001 Ford Expedition that the fire department no longer needs.
•  Approved a $1.7 million warrant to Mount Abraham Union High School and Bristol Elementary School for school taxes the town collected.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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