Vergennes aldermen set hearing on new zoning laws

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday accepted updated zoning regulations from the city’s planning commission and scheduled a public hearing on the changes for 7 p.m. on Oct. 27. The council must hold at least one hearing before adopting the new zoning laws.
Planners held a lightly attended public hearing on Monday, after which City Manager and Zoning Administrator Mel Hawley said they made two changes to the updated law, one minor move to clarify language and another to correct what he called an oversight.
Overall, planners said most of the proposed zoning changes have been made to bring the laws into synch with the 2014 rewrite of the city plan.
At Monday’s hearing, Hawley said one resident of the city’s agricultural district noted that planners had retained homes as an “adjunct use,” something no longer supported in the plan.
Hawley said planners then made a change to allow single family homes on 5 acres in the agricultural zone, and to allow Planned Unit Developments there that would permit subdivisions to cluster homes on smaller lots within larger developments.
Those changes are supported by the city plan, Hawley said, and once planners made them they forwarded the new laws to the city council.
Two potentially significant changes planners made prior to Monday include:
• A provision found in the city’s Industrial and Public zones that would allow, after a public process, the Vergennes Development Review Board to grant setback waivers for commercial uses next to homes for “parking or loading spaces.”
• A reduction in the minimum width of driveways for all new homes throughout the city from 20 feet to 12 feet, a new maximum width of 22 feet, and a requirement that all driveways have 14 feet of “vertical clearance” to make sure fire and rescue vehicles can access properties. Planners said the minimum width change would better reflect the reality in the city’s older neighborhoods.
Aldermen also discussed with Hawley the possibility of the city police force contracting some services to surrounding towns, a discussion that at this point is only at a preliminary basis.
Hawley said Ferrisburgh, which receives coverage from Vermont State Police and sometimes contracts with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department for traffic control and speed enforcement, had sent a letter to Vergennes asking to explore the idea.
He said council members were “absolutely comfortable with this concept,” but only if it involved “no Vergennes taxpayer subsidy.”
Hawley said aldermen agreed he and Police Chief George Merkel should meet with the Ferrisburgh selectboard, and also agreed with Hawley’s suggestion that he should reach out to the Waltham and Panton selectboards to see if those towns have any interest.
In other business, the council:
• Met with Rep. Diane Lanpher to discuss the city’s sewer overflow issues. Lanpher also organized a recent meeting in Burlington for Vermont communities dealing with similar problems. Hawley said the city would be staying its course and complying with its 1272 Orders from the Agency of Natural Resources to resolve its overflow issue; a new one is expected by the end of December. Officials have said the fix could be costly.
“I hope this time with an engineering firm getting on board and again analyzing our problem here, we can solve our problem here,” Hawley said.
• Were introduced to Vergennes Partnership employee Amy Barr, that group’s new marketing and development coordinator, and continued to discuss plans to move the partnership office into city hall next to the Vergennes Opera House office. 

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