Addison town plan OK’d, with solar caveat
ADDISON — The Addison selectboard has approved an updated town plan, a move that will allow the Addison Planning Commission to begin work on new zoning regulations.
The town plan replaces a 2014 interim plan and lays the groundwork for new zoning laws that would allow for smaller lots in the town’s biggest zoning district.
It also creates the basis for new regulations at the town level on solar arrays and wind power generators. The town now has interim regulations on the siting of solar arrays that the selectboard adopted in July.
However, the selectboard on Dec. 6 only adopted the plan, according to meeting minutes, “with the stipulation the Energy Portion be reviewed by Town Meeting.”
Residents Jeff Nelson and Alden Harwood attended both the selectboard’s Dec. 6 public hearing and the planning commission’s earlier hearing on the new Energy section and said it exceeded the town’s regulatory authority.
Members of the Addison Planning Commission, who have spent years rewriting zoning and the town plan, this summer added the Energy section. Planners did so after the Legislature passed a bill giving towns the right to go before the Public Service Board on proposals for solar arrays and wind power generators — but only if towns had standards in their plans to regulate renewable energy projects.
The Addison draft plan’s provisions on “Energy” include:
• A ban on commercial solar projects generating more than 15 kilowatts a year in the Village Center (Addison Four Corners) and two lakefront districts.
• A limit of 500 kilowatts for projects in the Low Density Rural Agricultural zone that is by far the town’s largest, and a complete ban in the Conservation district.
• A ban of commercial wind projects on Snake Mountain, and a case-by-case review of smaller-scale wind turbines in other areas.
• 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.
Nelson and Harwood at the September planning commission hearing said the provisions in some cases were discriminatory because the same standards were not applied to other commercial development.
Planners defended the section, noting that much of the language was approved by regional planners, and is thus likely to be legal. They also said the chapter meets the goal of getting the town a say when proposed solar or wind projects go before the Public Service Board.
Key among other provisions is that the plan calls for creating “a density based zoning code” in the Low Density Rural Agricultural district, as recommended by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
Density bonuses, when made final by new zoning, will allow landowners to create one or more smaller lots if they agree to preserve open land on the larger parcel that is being subdivided. The tactic thus allows affordable lots and preserves farmland and scenery.
Planning commission Chairman Frank Galgano said writing new zoning will be a complex task that will incorporate new state mandates as well as the new plan provisions. Planners have started work, but what he said will be long-term project can now begin in earnest.
“We’ve gone through so far making some comparisons and seeing where some changes have to be made. And then we’ll go through getting them done. But I would think (it will get done) within this next year,” Galgano said. “Hopefully by the end of this summer.”
Planners had one set of zoning regulations written in 2013, but that proposal was rejected by the selectboard, which wanted to see smaller lots with smaller lot-frontage requirements to allow for more affordable housing, development and tax revenue.
Both boards eventually agreed on the density bonus approach as a way to meet those goals while also preserving farmland and scenery, goals that many residents valued in a planning survey.
Part of the process for planners now is to review the 2013 regulations and see what can be re-used.
“Some of those changes we made we’re going to have to go over them again and see if they’re still relevant. And if not we can make some changes,” Galgano said.
Other plan provisions call for new density bonus lots to be surveyed, and wherever possible to be served by a single curb cut.
The new town plan also 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 on 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.
Planners must incorporate into new zoning much of that, plus new material the state requires, particularly on lakefront laws.
“It’s a constantly changing scene, much of it brought about by what’s happening in Montpelier,” Galgano said.
He referenced the years that planners, basically volunteers, have spent on this round of planning and zoning.
“It’s a much longer time than I ever thought it would be,” Galgano said.
And, yes, it is thankless work.
“We only ever seem to hear from the ones who are unhappy,” Galgano said. “There’s absolutely nothing we can do from a regulation point of view or any kind of an authority that wouldn’t be injuring somebody in somebody’s mind. So to do everything to the least possible impact is what we try to do.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]