Addison unveils draft of zoning; tweaks expected

ADDISON — On Sept. 9 the Addison Planning Commission unveiled a draft update to town zoning that includes a rewritten section on waivers that would allow residents flexibility from lot-line setback requirements, a new section regulating fences, and the addition of an already approved section on “personal landing strips” for private airplanes.
Only a half-dozen residents joined four planners, selectboard chairman Jeff Kauffman and Addison Development Review Board chairman John Spencer at the warned public hearing in the Addison Central School gym.
They listened to a presentation on an update that planners had been working on since February 2011, when they went back to the drawing board after a rewrite that had been in process since 2007 came under fire.
Planning commission chairman Frank Galgano said what planners presented on Sept. 9 did not represent a wholesale change from the 2007 zoning law that is currently in effect.
Much of the new material clarifies language and brings the town’s law into conformance with new state laws, Galgano said.
“We haven’t done a great deal of re-writing,” he said.
But the new sections on fences and waivers drew some questions and comments during the meeting, and critical comments and emails during and after the meeting from two residents.
Galgano said the new waiver rules were clarified and consolidated into one section in response to an Environmental Court case during which a judge ruled the town’s waiver rules were too vague. Galgano said the town attorney believes the new waiver rules would pass muster.
The law states, “The board may grant waivers to the dimensional requirements of these regulations, including but not limited to lot and shoreline setbacks.”
If granted, waivers may not “negatively impact the character” of an area, “impair the appropriate use of development of adjacent property,” or “be detrimental to the public welfare.” Waivers “will represent the minimum … that will afford relief and will represent the least deviation possible” from zoning laws.
Lakefront property owners Barbara Ernst and Barbara Supeno said at last Monday’s meeting and in follow-up emails that lakeshore waivers inherently are “detrimental to the public welfare.” They cite Shoreland zoning that “is intended … to encourage the long-term environmental protection of Lake Champlain and its shorelands.”
They said awarding waivers would allow more lakefront development that would create more water pollution in an area with already challenged septic systems, which they said are affecting the quality of Tri-Town Water District water.
“The proposed changes will allow for excessive overdevelopment in the protected shoreland 100-foot protected buffer area, overcrowding of structures on tiny lots … with mostly compromised, sub-standard septic systems,” they wrote in an email to planners.
At the meeting, Supeno said planners should also require septic review for any expansion of a property in the Shoreland district.
But Galgano said the state is the controlling authority on septic regulations, not the town.
“It’s the state regs that control,” Galgano said. “We are not in a position to conduct septic reviews.”
But Supeno said state officials told her that towns can insist that applicants seek state permits.
“We do have the authority to do that,” she said.
Galgano said there are too many gray areas in lakefront properties for the town to become involved. For example, he said a property might have just three bedrooms, but families traditionally might have many more members visit during peak months.
“It will take a lot of energy to decide what is right and wrong … and it will hurt somebody,” he said.
The two-page fence section limits fence heights to six feet on side and rear yards and to 42 inches in front yards, with a requirement that front fences be “40 percent open.”
It also forbids fences that limit drivers’ views at intersections, and requires them around swimming pools.
“We had some very strong feelings about safety,” Galgano said.
Residents’ questions at the meeting focused on pre-existing fences.
“Would they allow for any blocking of an existing right of way?” asked Bill Tozier.
John Kerrigan asked how the regulations would handle existing fencing that might have been built on another’s property.
Galgano said the regulations were drawn up with “the best interests of everybody” in mind, and reminded residents that it is not the planners’ role is to make decisions on individual cases.
“We’re not really a policing authority,” he said.
Ernst and Supeno disagreed in a document handed to planners at the meeting with the thrust of the fence regulations. It called “excessively restrictive and unnecessary” the front yard fence regulations and several recommendations in the Good Neighbor Policy.
Spencer noted that some sections contained information about setbacks for private roads, but other sections lacked them, and he wondered if there should be some consistency across the regulations.
“Maybe that’s something the planning commission should look at,” Spencer said.
But Galgano said those sections are consistent with the 2007 laws now in force.
“We didn’t make any changes,” Galgano said, adding, “We simply left the numbers in place.”
Spencer noted, however, that private roads were newly defined in the update, and the focus on private roads could cause problems for the DRB.
“You defined private road … It will be brought up,” Spencer said. “Wouldn’t this be an appropriate time to change that?”
Galgano began to show the frustration of what has been a multi-year process for the volunteer planners, and wondered why the issue had not been raised during the many meetings the commission has already devoted to the rewrite.
“Now people come and say why don’t we slow this process down and stop it,” Galgano said.
But Supeno said the private road setback issue has come up in some cases, and Kauffman said if residents were not clear on setbacks, they could make mistakes that could cause problems down the line.
“If you don’t know the standards for a private road … it negates the possibility of the town ever taking over a private road,” Kauffman said.
Galgano then agreed that planners should evaluate the issue.
“We’ll go over it at our next meeting,” he said.
Planners will eventually forward the laws to the selectboard for a decision, although they could choose to have another public hearing. Galgano said planners would “make note of the comments,” make any changes that seemed necessary, and then “make a recommendation to the selectboard.”
The selectboard then also must hold at least one hearing before the zoning laws are adopted. If major changes are made, it is possible the laws could even be returned to planners.
“They also have the option to recommend and make changes and send a different set of regulations to the planning board,” Galgano said. “It’s up to the selectboard to enact it.”
Kauffman confirmed that the selectboard, once it holds at least one hearing, could either approve a final set of laws or call for a town-wide vote.
Supeno and Ernst recommended more hearings and then a town-wide vote, not a selectboard decision.
“We strongly recommend that the valuable input from the first planning public hearing be reviewed and the appropriate changes made and that a second planning public hearing be held,” they wrote. “We also strongly recommend that after the selectboard reviews and approves any changes that this must be put before a full vote of town residents and preferably at Town Meeting Day with ample time … for a thorough and thoughtful review by our citizenry.”
Copies of the current and proposed regulations are available at the town clerk’s office, as is a two-page summary of the changes. Galgano pledged last week to make all material available online promptly. As of Friday morning only the 2007 regulations were.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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