Addison Town Plan advances; following revision will focus on lot sizes

ADDISON — The Addison Planning Commission on Monday approved a town plan update and voted to send it to the town selectboard for its approval. Planning board chairman Frank Galgano told a half-dozen residents at a public hearing that the moves would allow the town to move to adopt new zoning laws that have been on hold for six months.
The new plan does not, however, make changes to zoning laws some residents and the selectboard have suggested. Most discussion at Monday’s hearing at the Addison firehouse focused on those issues, specifically on easing lot-size and road-frontage requirements.
But Galgano said as soon as the Addison Town Plan update is in place — probably by early August — that a new process including public hearings and surveys will start that could result in a rewrite of those plan provisions, possibly even by the end of 2014. Once the plan is changed, zoning can follow, planners said.
“We honestly believe this is something that is a town-wide concern,” Galgano said. “We want to give everyone a chance to discuss it.”
Galgano said the current plan update will require a selectboard public hearing before the selectboard could approve it. Then at least some of the zoning laws on which planners labored for years could be adopted. 
Key elements in those proposed new zoning laws include a rewritten section on waivers that would allow residents flexibility from lot-line setback requirements and a new section regulating fences.
The document planners forwarded on Monday to the selectboard includes many new factual updates and maps, changes made to conform with state laws, and new sections on town history, education, economic development, and recreation and tourism.
Those changes, the product of months of hard work, drew little comment. At issue to residents on Monday and to the selectboard previously were the rules, primarily in the town’s large Low Density Residential and Agricultural District (LDR/A zone), that now require a minimum of 5 acres and 400 feet of road frontage for a building lot.
At a June 15 planning meeting, selectboard members recommended a 2.5-acre minimum for the LDR/A zone, according to a document planners handed out on Monday.
In a December memo, selectboard members also recommended reducing LDR/A side-yard setbacks for outbuildings, and cutting some restrictions on retail shops and easing lot coverage limitations in the LDR/A zone. 
The document planners handed out on Monday also stated planners responded to the selectboard that a “Planning Commission study” and “majority input from town residents” would be required before such major changes could be made to the plan.
Several residents on Monday, including Grandey Road’s Alyce Lane, echoed the selectboard in suggesting such changes could add to the tax base and encourage families to settle in Addison.
“Without being able to develop, we can’t add to the tax base,” Lane said. “I am for opening it up a little bit,” adding, “It’s going to help the taxpayers. It’s going to help the school.”
Resident and Addison Development Review Board Chairman John Spencer said it would not necessarily be desirable to change the regulations for the entire LDR/A zone.
He suggested instead carving out new zones or easing the laws in other zones, possibly in the Shoreland Recreation district that runs near the lake in the southwest corner of town and has some favorable soils.
“I think it’s time for Addison to have some other districts,” Spencer said.
Galgano said planners would look at all the options and “see if there is any way we can make a reasonable adjustment,” including looking at “specific changes for specific areas only, but not the entire district.”
Galgano also noted that Vermont’s septic waste disposal laws would have the final say on many lots regardless of the changes Addison chooses to make to its zoning because soils determine “what can you approve on a specific lot.”
Another item to be looked at in the full plan revision include adding recommendations on how the town can support agriculture, Galgano said.
He also noted that planners might have to examine regulations in the densely populated Shoreland Residential zone.
“We’re going to have to look at some setback requirements,” Galgano said.
Planners said repeatedly they will make no changes without making every effort to engage residents.
Galgano said the commission will hold several meetings on a more complete plan rewrite once the current update is in place.
“We simply don’t want to make a precipitated decision,” Galgano said. “This is the kind of discussion we need.”
Planner Charles Kelly said he hoped the commission members would hear from many of their neighbors.
“We’re hoping to get a lot of input from all the town residents,” Kelly said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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