Bristol planners call for uncluttered green

BRISTOL — At Monday’s selectboard meeting, the Bristol Planning Commission requested a moratorium on any further modifications to the Bristol town green until the selectboard can create and approve an ordinance addressing use and development of the park in the center of town.
“The objective is to ensure that we have ample space on the green,” Commissioner Garland “Chico” Martin explained in a follow-up interview. “We just want to make sure that the open space on the park is protected. The existing footprint of benches, gazebo, memorial park, playground, bike racks, fountain is maxed out and there should be nothing new put into the park unless it’s going to replace something that’s already there and be the same size.
“Look at the town green in Middlebury. They’ve done an excellent job of protecting it, and our town green is getting cluttered,” Martin added.
Martin explained that over the past several years the planning commission has repeatedly discussed concerns over how to regulate development on the green, including whether to turn the town green into its own planning zone.
“But we all agreed that it would be better for the town if the selectboard could adopt an ordinance because the selectboard is ultimately responsible for how the park is used,” he said. “We thought that the selectboard was the best body to determine what more permanent uses it would sanction.”
Along with preserving open space, planning commission members stressed the need for a clear process with set standards for all proposed changes to the green.
Concern over development on the town green came to the fore at the planning commission’s Aug. 18 meeting over discussion of a proposed Little Free Library project that had already received approval from the Design Review Commission.
Little Free Libraries are part of a nonprofit movement nationwide to provide easy access to free books through decorative “Little Free Library” drop-offs that can be as small as a shoe box to as big as a rabbit hutch and that can be as simple or fancy as sponsors and the community want to make them.
Addison County Readers, led by Lawrence Memorial Library children’s librarian Marita Bathe-Schine, had proposed to put a small Little Free Library under the “fairy house” structure at the new playground on the town green to encourage literacy and reach out to families who might want to take a free book home or sit and read a book together in the park. For Addison County Readers, the idea of making free books available beyond the library is key. The group’s main project is distributing free books to preschoolers through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. According to Bathe-Schine, Addison County Readers sees the proposed Little Free Library at the Bristol green playground as a way to reach families not in the Imagination Library program and to get more books into more kids’ homes.
Planning commission members stressed that concern over how to ensure open space on the green and concern over putting in place a clear process for OK’ing new projects is separate from their support for the idea of the Little Free Library and their desire to encourage young readers.
But at the Aug. 18 planning commission meeting, the Little Free Library proposal turned what might usually have been a 15-minute discussion to approve into an hour-long discussion that tabled the proposed book stall and led the planning commission to pass a motion requesting a moratorium on any further modifications to the green until the selectboard can put an ordinance in place.
The Aug. 18 motion passed six to one, with only commission chair Sue Kavanagh against.
Kavanagh introduced the proposed moratorium and request for an ordinance to the selectboard Monday night, presented a written statement from planning commission member Gary Clark and then turned matters over to planning commission members Chico Martin, John Elder and Katie Raycroft-Meyer.
Although each spoke in his or her own voice, all raised questions about both the limited amount of open space left on the green and the need for a clear process so that any new project idea would have to go through a set process and be vetted according to set standards. Discussion included how different changes to the green — including the Veterans Memorial, the new playground design and structures, the new benches and bike racks — had had different pathways to approval.
“We think that there should be a consistent process for approval of new projects,” said Raycroft-Meyer. “It’s all good — we have the new bike racks and the new benches and it’s all good stuff — but there are bigger issues of what’s OK, what’s not OK and how does it get reviewed. It’s the process.”
Said Elder, “The town green is finite, it’s very, very important and we’ve had major new developments at either end — the memorial park at one end and the playground at the other. Both are really valuable to the village, but there’s not much more room when you count the bandstand and the benches and the fountain and so forth.
“Because it’s such valuable space,” continued Elder, “people will always have ideas about what to do there. So we need a process that will cause a very deliberate response to new ideas, that anything that were to be proposed would have to meet certain standards and call for a certain kind of deliberation unique to that unique spot.”
The selectboard listened to concerns and asked questions but took no formal action at Monday’s meeting. Instead, board members agreed to look into the matter more fully and discuss whether to create a new town green-specific ordinance at upcoming meetings.
“The selectboard is protective of the green and understands that it is a limited space and they’re open to looking into protecting it for the future of Bristol residents,” Town Administrator Therese Kirby summed up.
Tuesday morning Kirby was already at work gathering information, having checked in with LaRose Surveys, which had surveyed the green previously, to get a more precise mapping of the space.
“Right now I’m just trying to calculate what is the current square footage of the park and how much of that has a structure or something on it,” said Kirby.
In other action at Monday’s meeting, Kirby and Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose provided an update to the selectboard regarding progress on the new fire station. As of Sept. 4, changes to the project coming out of the 7.5 percent contingency of $151,708 are estimated to be at just under $53,000. Once bids come in — by Oct. 6 — the numbers could change.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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