New Haven seeks public feedback on new town plan

NEW HAVEN — The New Haven selectboard is nearing completion of its draft of the new town plan and will hold a hearing Dec. 14 to get public input.
The hearing is critical to the selectboard’s goal to get a new town plan on the 2017 Town Meeting Day ballot.
“We know that we need to get this on the ballot,” said Selectboard chair Kathy Barrett.
New Haven’s 2011 town plan expired this past March. The ramifications of having no official town plan in place were brought into sharp relief at the Nov. 15 selectboard meeting when Green Lantern solar developer Sam Carlson asked the selectboard which town plan it should use in applying for a Certificate of Public Good (VPG). Green Lantern had just filed a 45-day notice for a new solar site across from its 500 kW solar array currently under development at Russell Farm (on the west side of Route 7, slightly north of the state police barracks).
“We weren’t sure which town plan we should be referring to when we file for a CPG,” said Carlson, pointedly, at the meeting. “Which plan do you want us to be looking at?”
The new town plan will have considerably more language on siting solar arrays and tighter regulation on solar development than the 2011 plan and has been brought into alignment with the solar siting law enacted last June. The Renewable Energy Siting law gives “substantial deference” to towns that sufficiently address the state’s energy planning goals in their town plans. Meeting the state’s criteria, however, has been a moving target as those criteria have themselves been in development since the legislation passed.
The New Haven selectboard’s goal is to hold its hearing(s), complete revisions, send the plan back to the New Haven Planning Commission, and take care of all necessary statutory steps to warn the new town plan in time for the March 7 vote.
At the Nov. 15 selectboard meeting, Tim Bouton, emergency management planner of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, worked with selectboard members on the flood resiliency and the hazards parts of the town plan. Bouton’s presentation on flood hazards and defining the flood plain kicked off a lively discussion about how to best regulate development in areas likely to get flooded. What are the landowner’s responsibilities and what are the town’s? If a landowner chooses to build in a flood plain, in which situations does the town assume financial or other responsibilities? When it comes time to mitigate disaster, how do you make this fair to all?
“Any time you do any kind of land-use regulation, you’re always trying to walk that fine line between the landowner’s right to do what he wants with his own land versus the better good of all the town and the neighbors,” said Barrett in a follow-up conversation with the Independent. “If we have this (detailed flood resiliency plan) in there, we can say, hey, this is what happens in the flood plain. You’re put on notice.”
Bouton also highlighted for the selectboard, draft language on dealing with other hazards, such as fire, earthquake, erosion, lightning and widespread power failure.
To complete its draft of the town plan to meet the town meeting deadline, the selectboard has held two separate work sessions and has been working with Town Attorney Cindy Hill to finalize the language. In between work sessions and discussions at selectboard meetings, individual selectboard members have each worked on part of the plan and have submitted their responses to other parts of the plan to Hill individually, so as not to be in violation of Vermont’s open meeting laws.
“If it’s just wording and not substantive changes then we filter it all through Cindy,” Barrett noted, but “if there are seriously conflicting thoughts then we come together and hash it out.”
The selectboard will hold a special meeting to finalize its draft of the town plan on this Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. It will post that draft and make it available in the town office, starting Nov. 30. The public hearing on the selectboard’s draft will be held on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., in the New Haven Town Hall.
Barrett stressed how important it is for New Haven residents to attend the hearing, and share their view on this admittedly long document.
“We’ve all seen what solar can do and regardless of what your opinion is, you need to know how it will affect your property,” she said. “If you want to put solar on, what do you have to do? If you don’t want solar next to you, what does the town plan say? If you’re in a flood plain, what does the town plan say about what you can and cannot do on your property?
“We want voters to come to the polls on Town Meeting Day with the knowledge and the comfort to be able to vote for or against the town plan,” she added.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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