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After gravel compromise, Bristol plan goes to vote

BRISTOL — After eight years of debate, discussion and discord, the Bristol Town Plan will be on the ballot and back in the voters’ hands on Election Day, Nov. 6. The Bristol Planning Commission and the Bristol selectboard, which added 42 changes to the draft given to them by the planning commission based on input from public hearings, unanimously approved the latest version.
“It has been reworked and improved from the plan that was put out two years ago,” said Bristol Selectwoman Carol Wells. “The planning commission has put in a lot of time, effort and thought, as has the selectboard.”
In Vermont, a town plan is intended as a visionary document charting a community’s priorities for growth, transportation, housing, energy and natural resource stewardship, among other things. It is the basis on which zoning rules are written.
The Bristol Town Plan up for a vote next Tuesday has been significantly altered from the proposed town plan rejected by Bristol voters in 2010. Perhaps the most divisive issue of the old plan allowed gravel extraction operations right up to the edge of Bristol village.
The planning commission, which itself was comprised of Bristol citizens whose opinions on crucial issues differed significantly, deadlocked over multiple versions of proposed gravel prohibition zones. This issue became entwined with a proposed gravel extraction operation by Lathrop LLC on property that is adjacent to the village and owned by Bristol resident Jim Lathrop.
Several Bristol residents, including the citizens group Smart Growth for Bristol, opposed the operation, citing potential pollution and environmental damages. Litigation surrounding the proposed Lathrop operation is currently in the Vermont Environmental Court.
In February of this year, then-Acting Chair Chico Martin asked Planning Commission members John Elder and Kris Perlee to broker a compromise and draw up a single no-extraction zone.
“The idea was to take a step back,” said Elder in a Tuesday interview. “Instead of thinking where gravel removal should or shouldn’t be on a particular person’s land, we should look at what the uses would be of particular areas, and not think in terms of a particular property at that point in the process. Instead of adjudicating, to move to a new level of thinking in terms of principles and broad town goals.”
The map proposed by Elder and Perlee created a Village Planning Area, which excluded downtown Bristol and surrounding areas from the extraction of gravel, sand and other natural resources.
At the same time, Elder said, “landowners to the north and south of the village would have other economic possibilities.”
Perlee did not respond to an interview request by press time. However, Elder made a point of crediting Perlee with the initial decision to move the discussion to a new place.
After almost a decade of work, the planning commission and the selectboard are excited about the prospect of wrapping up the project. Only two members of the public attended the selectboard’s last public hearing on the town plan, which may indicate that most parties feel their concerns have been met in this draft.
“It is a consensus document from many viewpoints that represents the spectrum of the town,” said Martin, who is now the permanent chair of the Bristol Planning Commission. “It received unanimous support from the planning commission and the selectboard. I hope voters will take that into consideration.”
“I think it’s a good plan,” Wells added. “It is not 100 percent, but it is a living document. We have the opportunity to update it in five years.”
Jim Lathrop did not return calls to the Independent by press time to offer his take on the proposed plan. But Elder, for his part, is proud of the work he and the planning commission did to produce a plan that the majority of Bristol residents could agree upon.
“My own hope is that it will pass,” Elder said. “It would allow us to move forward as a town to things that are not controversial, to look at things like housing opportunities and outdoor recreation that have very broad support.”
Passage of the Bristol Town Plan would, he said, “open the door to all kinds of other conversations.”

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