Editorial: Bristol siezes an opportunity

The Bristol Planning Commission wisely lent its support to a proposal to pursue conservation easements along a 1.6-mile stretch of the Route 116 corridor north of Bristol.
The proposal did not pass, however, until after a lengthy discussion and on a 7-2 vote; that’s surprising primarily because the town selectboard had previously supported spending $1,000 to conduct property appraisals on the land; because it’s a letter of support that advances the possibility to do this, not a commitment that binds landowners; and because it’s a rare opportunity to preserve such a scenic corridor.
“This is a chance to conserve one of the key corridors in Bristol… in ways I’m astounded we have the opportunity to see,” said planning commissioner John Elder. “I’m a very, very strong supporter of this… it is so good for Bristol.”
The proposed land is comprised of about 600-700 acres in the narrow valley that extends from the north edge of Rocky Dale Gardens (near the turnoff to Lincoln) to the Route 17 turnoff that leads to Appalachian Gap. Most of the land in this narrow valley is owned by the Farr and Fuller families. Conservation easements would sell the development rights to the Vermont Land Trust which would henceforth not allow the landowners to subdivide or build additional houses unless they support farm needs. Good forestry and agricultural practices would be encouraged, but commercial development, mining or topsoil extraction would not be allowed.
It is unclear whether both families are fully supportive of the proposal, but the planning commission’s letter of support is needed before the Vermont Land Trust continues to pursue the proposed easements. Letters of support have already been granted by the selectboard, conservation commission and Addison County Regional Planning Commission. No local group has opposed it.
What’s particularly appealing about this opportunity is that it protects a charming entrance into the town that could easily be lost if it is not preserved. One need only visualize a convenience store/gas station, or a Dunkin’ Donuts/gas station combo on that stretch of land to see how quickly — and dramatically — the scene could be forever changed.
What’s most alarming is the lengthy challenge to the proposed letter of support from Planning Commission Chairman Chico Martin. We’re all for tough questioning and exploring both sides of an issue, but Martin questions the wisdom of government involvement of any sort in town planning — and that’s an odd perspective to have as chairman of the town planning commission. Calling the proposed easements a “wrong-headed approach,” he maintains the laizzes-faire market is the best decider of how to protect — or not — such property. With such an approach, if carried to its logical consequence, gravel pits could be located in the downtown, no public parks would be built without the bequest of charities, and zoning would proceed without restriction on a piece-meal basis. That’s good to know considering the planning decisions (the town plan will be voted on Nov. 6) Bristol residents have to make in the coming months.
Angelo S. Lynn

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