Editorial, Bristol’s plan: Still no cigar

It’s been a long time coming, but Bristol residents are getting closer to being able to vote on a well-considered town plan that fairly represents public input over the past several years on controversial aspects of the plan.
Closer, but not quite there.
At a joint meeting on Monday with the town planning commission, Selectwoman Carol Wells pointed out an important omission: there was no policy statement to address the changes restricting the extraction of “earth resources,” which include deposits of sand, soil, gravel and rock, to a broader area than what had previously been considered.
Those restrictions are specifically outlined in other sections of the plan, but not addressed in the policy statements. And because the policies of the town plan are what the courts rely on to judge whether a project is in compliance with the plan, Wells explained, the policy statements trump other aspects of the plan. To avoid further contention, Wells continued, the priority should be to make the plan as clear as possible — particularly on this issue.
The response from Chico Martin, acting chairman of the planning commission, skirted the problem.
Martin deflected Wells’ concern by saying that since the draft plan did not address other specific zones in its policy statements, why address this one? Furthermore, he tried to assure Wells and other members of the selectboard that those issues would be addressed in other aspects of the plan.
In short, “no worries, we’ll take care of those issues elsewhere.”
But that is the problem. Commission members have clearly drafted a plan in which the policy statements are the key to interpretation, but then fail to include a policy addressing the one concern that has bedeviled Bristol residents for the past several years.
The specifics are clearly spelled out in a story of the meeting on the front page of today’s paper. The story cites the role of policies as expressing “the town’s intent or position with regard to specific issues or topics. 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 this plan.”
The draft plan under Section D, page 53, goes on to state that new extraction or quarrying ranked among the town’s “lowest priorities,” and that the proposed solution to all of the public input was “to prohibit extraction in the zoning districts that currently comprise HDR, LDR, BC, NC, ROC, REC, MUN and MIX zones. After further consideration and input… it has been determined that the area prohibiting extraction should be identical to the Village Planning Area, which includes portions of the above listed zones, plus portions of what are the current RA2, C-1, and CON zones.”
The key words are “portions of,” which obviously means that other portions might be excluded.
There are also caveats pertaining to earth resources extraction. Under the section on industrial uses, still on Page 53, the draft vaguely touches on the difference between light and heavy industry, then states: “Extraction and quarrying would not in all cases be considered prohibited uses (within the village). The town does intend, however, that quarrying be prohibited until the town has deliberated further on all the potential impacts of quarrying.”
Then this minor contradiction to Martin’s previous comment concerning the lack of specific policies: Under policy statement 13, Page 56, section f, the draft plan states: “…consideration should be given to developing one or more new areas where light industry can be appropriately located within the Village Planning Area;” and, again, policy 16 and 17: “Produce fair town zoning regulations with respect to excavation of soil, sand, gravel and rock; ” and “Prohibit quarrying (which includes mining) until it can be further studied.”
We don’t want to nitpick (and the last two policies certainly are not either for or against resource extraction), but to Wells’ point there are several policy statements that clearly address specific zones and their uses, and there is no good reason that another policy addressing the changes in land use extraction should not be added. Or better yet, combine the last two policy statements (16 and 17) into a more comprehensive statement that outlines the public will on this issue.
If the planning commission doesn’t want to take up that small task, perhaps the selectboard — as part of its review and within its authority — could propose such a policy for future discussion.
Angelo S. Lynn
Clarification: In the print version of this editorial, which ran on April 26, 2012, it was incorrectly stated that Selectwoman Carol Wells is the chairwoman for the Bristol selectboard. Peeker Heffernan is the new chair, and the Bristol selectboard rotates this position annually. We regret any confusion.

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