Addison talks zoning changes

ADDISON — The Addison selectboard last week recommended changes to the town planning commission’s long-awaited update to town zoning laws — including easing road frontage requirements in three districts and reducing minimum lot size in the large Low Density Residential Agricultural (LDRA) zone.
Selectboard members, who received the update from planners in October, said the smaller lots they are proposing — a 2.5-acre minimum rather than 5 acres — would be more affordable to first-time buyers, conserve farmland and boost the town financially.
“In order to sustain our tax base, we need more on our grand list,” said selectboard chairman Jeff Kauffman at the board’s Nov. 5 meeting.
The selectboard sent the document back to planners for consideration, a move that according to state law will require planners to file comments on the changes before the selectboard holds a public hearing and then a townwide vote on the zoning rewrite.
It was not clear late last week whether the changes could be made without first changing Addison’s soon-to-expire town plan, according to the chairman of the Addison Planning Commission and the director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC). At their meeting, selectboard members said they hoped the town plan could be adapted.
ACRPC director Adam Lougee said town plans provide the legal underpinnings for zoning laws. And in the case of Addison’s LDRA district, the plan calls for a 5-acre minimum lot size, not the 2.5-acre size the selectboard recommended during its Nov. 5 work session.
Lougee did say some Vermont towns have adopted zoning that is not compatible with its town plan, and then changed the plan after the fact. But he said the ability to do so at times “depends on how the plan is written, and their plan … specifically calls for 5-acre zoning” in the LDRA district.
“I can’t tell you it’s never happened, because it has,” Lougee said. “There is some gray area here.”
Addison’s town plan also supports the existing 400-foot minimum road frontage for lots in the LDRA and both Shoreland zoning districts, not the 200-foot minimum selectboard members recommended last week.
Addison planning chairman Frank Galgano, whose panel has spent three years working on the new regs, said on Thursday he would be looking into whether changes could be made before the town plan expires in August, or if ideally they should wait.  
“Before we decide which way we can go we need to do some research,” Galgano said. “I don’t know if the chicken comes before the egg or vice versa.”
Galgano emphasized he was not necessarily opposed to the changes, but wanted the planning commission — which is set to meet next on Nov. 18 — and selectboard to have a chance to go over the selectboard’s rationales for their recommendations and discuss the next steps.
“We have to interact with the selectboard and figure out where we have to go,” he said.
Lougee said he hoped the two boards would sit down and work out the path forward.
“That’s the best outcome,” he said.
Galgano and Kauffman are already on the same page on one issue: Both want as much public feedback as possible, especially given the new elements being proposed.
“We want to expose it … to the citizens,” Galgano said.
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s work session, Kauffman said officials would do their best to get the word out.
“We’ll do everything we can to make people aware,” he said.
Kauffman also confirmed the selectboard wants a public vote on the finished product, although the board has the statutory right to adopt the regs.
“I think with the changes we should put it before (the voters),” he said.
Overall, key elements in planners’ proposed new laws include a rewritten section on waivers that allow residents flexibility from lot-line setback requirements and a new section regulating fences, plus the addition of an already approved section on “personal landing strips” for private airplanes.
On Nov. 5 selectmen made their changes during a lengthy work session. Kauffman and other board members said the smaller LDRA lot sizes would encourage more homes, thus helping the town financially.
Board members also said smaller lots would help younger buyers afford homes, help older residents in their retirements by creating more lots that could be subdivided, and preserve farmland.
With the smaller lots — including existing lot sizes in the Shoreland districts as well as their recommendations for the LDRA zone — 200 feet of frontage made more sense, they said.
Board members also recommended:
•  Changing LDRA sideyard setbacks for outbuildings to 25 feet from 75 feet.
•  Removing wording in two places that ruled outbuildings within two feet of homes were not detached.
•  Eliminating two limits of retail shops in the LDRA zone, one that allowed stores only if they catered to tourists and another that allowed them only on a seasonal basis.
•  Allowing an increase of lot coverage — how much of a lot could be covered by buildings — in the LDRA zone from 15 to 25 percent.
•  Making several changes to a new fencing section: striking a 42-inch height limit for front-yard fences and a 29-inch limit for front-yard walls, striking language that required fencing to be made of “uniform material,” and eliminating a height requirement for fencing at intersections while leaving in language that banned fences that blocked drivers’ view.
Board members also heard criticism about the waiver section as written from lakefront property owners Barbara Supeno and Barbara Ernst.
Supeno said the waivers were too open-ended and could allow overdevelopment with a negative environmental impact near the lakefront, an area that she said is already plagued with substandard septic systems. She suggested a limit on the potential size of waivers from setback requirements rather than giving people “the right to expand.”
“If you want to have waivers, make it for a couple feet … not just open as it is now,” Supeno said.
Selectman Rob Hunt said waivers would not allow excess development, but rather just allow property owners relief if they were just a couple feet short of a requirement, nor, he said, would waivers “make a non-compliant structure more non-compliant.”
Regardless of whether planners must turn their attention to zoning or the town plan next, Galgano said they are anxious to get started on the new town plan to meet the August deadline
“I plan to get into the town plan update as soon as possible,” he said.
Selectmen on Nov. 5 approved $3,970 to pay for mandatory updates, such as new maps and sections required by the state that include economic development, transportation and childcare. The ACRPC will help in that process.
In 2011, a 2010 draft of zoning regulations was thrown out amid complaints that changes had not been sufficiently warned. Addison planners have been plugging away at the essentially thankless update task since then, while at the same time the clock has been ticking on the town plan — state law requires town plans to be renewed every five years.
“This thing has been keeping us with the nose to the wrong grindstone,” Galgano said. “We have to get started on the town plan.”

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