New Addison Town Plan offering changes

ADDISON — A half-dozen Addison residents turned out on Monday night at Addison Central School to learn more about and comment on a proposed town plan that could lay the groundwork for new zoning laws.
Those laws, to be created only after the selectboard ultimately adopts a plan, could allow for smaller lots in the town’s biggest zoning district and create permanent regulations at the town level on solar arrays and windmills. The town now has interim regulations on the siting of solar arrays that the selectboard adopted in July.
Despite some pushback on the renewable energy provisions in the proposed plan they presented at Monday’s public hearing, members of the Addison Planning Commission sounded like they were ready to forward their draft to the selectboard, a decision they will make when they meet again this coming Monday.
“My recommendation to the board is we approve it and send it,” said planning chairman Frank Galgano after Monday’s 80-minute hearing.
Planners have been working on this plan for almost four years. In 2014, they and selectboard members agreed to adopt an interim plan after a debate on whether to allow smaller lots in the Low Density Residential and Agricultural District (LDRA), the town’s largest zone.
Selectboard members suggested smaller lots, setbacks and road frontages to create more affordable housing, while planners said they were also mindful that many in town appreciate open farmland and vistas.
The interim plan left that question unsettled, and the commission sent out a 2015 survey answered by 141 residents, more than 10 percent of the town’s population, that found strong support for agriculture, affordable land and homes, and scenic vistas.
With help from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, the town plan proposes as a solution creating “a density based zoning code” for the LDRA district.
Density bonuses would allow landowners or developers to create one or more smaller lots if they agree to preserve open land on the larger parcel that is being subdivided, thus both allowing more affordable lots and preserving farmland and scenery.
For example, the LDRA zone calls for a 5-acre minimum home lot size. Instead of five 5-acre lots on a 25-acre parcel, with a density bonus a landowner could create four lots averaging 2 acres and preserve the 17-acre balance, which would be called the “mother parcel.”
Other provisions would call for the lots created to be surveyed, and wherever possible to be served by a single curb cut.
“The balance of the 25 acres would be conserved, and hopefully there would be one driveway to serve the lots,” Galgano said.
The selectboard cannot adopts a new town plan until it holds at least one public hearing. If the selectboard makes any major changes to the planners’ proposed plan, it must return it to the planning commission for further review — and more hearings.
And the draft plan’s chapter on “Energy” was not universally popular on Monday night. Planners scrambled to add that chapter this summer after the Legislature passed a bill giving towns the right to intervene in front of the Public Service Board — but only towns with provisions in their plans that created standards to regulate renewable energy projects.
The Addison draft plan’s provisions include:
•  A ban on commercial solar projects generating more than 15 kilowatts (15kw) a year in the Village Center (Addison Four Corners), Shoreland Recreational and Shoreland Residential (along and near Lake Champlain) districts.
•  A limit of 500kw for projects in the LDRA zone and a complete ban in the Conservation district.
•  A ban of commercial wind projects on Snake Mountain.
•  A case-by-case review of smaller-scale (50-meter) windmills in some areas considered suitable.
•  Support for home roof-mounted solar arrays, but a limit of how high they can reach over roof peaks (10 feet).
•  Requirements for the use of landscape screening and natural topography to limit projects’ visual impact, which will be assessed using standard state methods to evaluate neighborhood impact.
Residents Jeff Nelson and Alden Harwood questioned the provisions.
Nelson handed in a page-and-a-half of written comments, claiming the section was discriminatory toward renewable energy projects because it subjected them to standards it did not impose on other forms of commercial development. He called the provisions “illegal,” and said the town could lose money defending them in court if ultimately adopted.
“The draft plan is written to be extremely negative toward and discriminatory against the development of renewable energy resources in Addison, particularly ground-mounted solar facilities,” he read from his statement. “The plan exceeds the statutory authority given to towns in regulating such facilities.”
Planners defended the chapter, noting first that much of the language has been approved by regional planners, and is thus likely to be legal.
“The regional planning commission has accepted this plan,” said planner Charles Kelly.
Galgano said the chapter meets the goal of getting the town a say when proposed solar or wind projects go before the PSB seeking Certificates of Public Good.
Resident Stephanie Allen, who Galgano said opposed a solar project before the PSB, agreed with the planners.
“The Public Service Board is expecting towns to have a plan,” Allen said. “There is nothing statewide that says what towns can and cannot have.”
Allen added that if towns do adopt strict solar standards, such as Addison is proposing or Cornwall already has, “They (the PSB) back down.”
Nelson insisted state statutes would not allow Addison’s specific regulations to stand.
“If a town adopts a plan that is illegal, then that plan gets thrown out in court,” Nelson said.
Galgano said planners would double-check with the town attorney: “I promise you we will seek a lawyer’s opinion.”
Harwood and Nelson also focused on the 500kw limit, which they said translated to a solar array on 5 acres. 
Nelson called the restriction “completely arbitrary,” and Harwood said he has land that would be out of public view that could house a larger array.
“This plan is saying you can’t do that. I’ve got land that would be perfect for that,” Harwood said.
Harwood added that there are enough large Addison farms that could absorb the power generated, rather than have the electricity generated vanish into the grid.  
“I don’t think 5 kilowatts would ever leave this town,” he said.
Kelly said planners believe the potential to damage the town’s scenic vistas is too great.
“We don’t want the megawatt-size (arrays),” Kelly said. “It’s changing our scenic views.”
Among other provisions, the draft town plan calls for establishing the town’s first conservation commission; adds pages of maps devoted to facilities, resources, soil septic suitability, population density and more; details survey results in a number of topics; creates a new “Flood Overlay District” within the Conservation District; and makes specific recommendations for how to obtain the goals included in each chapter.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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