Bristol selectboard OKs changes to town plan

BRISTOL — The Bristol selectboard has finished reviewing the new draft of the town plan, made its alterations, and is sending the document back to the planning commission for one last glance.
At a special meeting on Monday night to review the draft plan, selectboard members patiently listened to a clash of ideologies, as the roughly half-dozen citizens and officials in attendance sparred over differing values. After reviewing every comment and question from a May public hearing and taking dozens of comments and questions from those in attendance, the board members approved their proposed changes.
Many of the changes centered around language pertaining to gravel extraction in and around downtown. Gravel extraction there has long been an issue of debate due to a gravel pit application by Jim Lathrop and some of his family members.
On July 17, the planning commission will review the changes and send their approval or last-minute changes back to the selectboard. The selectboard will then discuss potential changes to the plan for likely the final time at its July 30 meeting before warning the first of two required public hearings. The board then hopes to present the plan to voters at the General Election on Nov. 6.
Selectboard Chair Peeker Heffernan told planning commission members in attendance on Monday what the board’s intentions were.
“We are sending forth to you the changes we intend to make,” said Heffernan. “We’re not going to ask you, ‘What do you think of these changes?’”
Among the major proposed changes that the board made to the plan are:
•The addition of a policy statement under the land-use section of the draft plan (policy statement 13-I), which states “Extraction will not be allowed in the Village Planning Area.”
This statement is important because the section on “Interpreting the Plan” states that in legal proceedings, “It is the policies alone that serve as the final statement regarding the town’s position.” Since prohibiting extraction in the downtown Village Planning Area is a central component of the new plan draft, many citizens at the May public hearing voiced concern that no policy addressed the prohibition.
•An added statement that qualifies that extraction will not be considered in the Village Planning Area. The sentence in paragraph five on page 53 now reads: “Similarly, extraction and quarrying would not in all cases be considered prohibited uses, except in the Village Planning Area.”
•A reworded sentence to clarify the extent to which resources can be extracted when done so for the purpose of a commercial development. The sentence in the last paragraph on Page 52 reads: “It is also understood that extraction may be necessary in connection with preparing a site for other types of development that have received any necessary permits, and that material extracted for this reason can be sold commercially.”
Town Administrator Bill Bryant said the extent and length of time to which gravel could be extracted would be stipulated in the permits.
Planning commission member Bill Sayre and resident John Moyers had a disagreement over language on Page 3 of the plan.
As the plan reads: “The Planning Commission, Selectboard, and Zoning Board of Adjustment or their successor will only approve land use changes and proposed projects that in their judgments conform to the entire town plan.”
Moyers voiced his concern that the language opens up the plan to litigation and doesn’t encourage citizen engagement.
“Just because you have planning commissioner after your name doesn’t give you super-citizen status,” said Moyers. “If the intent of this wording is to say that all boards should consider the town plan when weighing a proposal, then say that. The wording here makes it difficult to understand what the intent is.”
Sayre said he thought the language was fine and it would instruct boards to use and not violate the town plan.
The selectboard didn’t find much of a problem with the language, and Sayre said the planning commission would discuss replacing or doing away with the words “only” and “entire” at their meeting, which were ideas that selectboard members raised but were not insistent about.
Bristol resident Jim Lathrop (who is in the family that proposed the controversial gravel pit) raised another issue. He’s concerned that the new town plan doesn’t address the need for a village-wide septic system and stormwater system that meets state and federal clean water standards. He said it’s an issue that has been hampering the town for 50 years.
Heffernan explained that the selectboard is aware of these infrastructure issues, but isn’t sure how the town would fund such an enormous undertaking. It’s an issue they are looking to resolve, he said. The board didn’t feel that this issue needed to be addressed in the plan.
Finally, Moyers raised concern with the process that the selectboard was pursuing in approving a plan for voters. He felt that the planning commission was being given too much power in the process.
But Bryant countered that under state law, the selectboard must send the draft plan to the planning commission after making changes. He pointed to the Vermont Statutes, Title 24, Section 4385, which pertains to adopting and amending municipal plans.
“If any part of the proposal is changed, the legislative body, at least 15 days prior to the hearing shall file a copy of the changed proposal with the clerk of the municipality, with any individual or organization requesting a copy in writing, and with the planning commission,” reads the statute. “The planning commission shall submit to the legislative body at or prior to the public hearing a report that analyzes the extent to which the changed proposal, when taken together with the rest of the plan, is consistent with the legislative goals.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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