Map, industrial zoning in Ferrisburgh plan draw fire

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh selectboard members agreed to research a map issue raised at a Tuesday public hearing on the proposed new town plan. They also heard concerns about the town’s two industrial districts from 23 residents at Ferrisburgh’s Route 7 town hall.
The board could agree to make a change to mapping and zoning along a small stretch of Route 7 north of Lewis Creek, depending on what they find in planning commission minutes — if anything.
Selectman Rick Ebel and town employees were searching planning minutes on Wednesday morning trying to discover why zoning on properties on the east side of Route 7 owned by Clark Hinsdale III and Dot Myers had been changed from commercial. Properties opposite theirs on the west side remain unchanged.
But town lister Carl Cole said he believed the map was drawn in error by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, a statement supported by Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission Chairman Craig Heindel. Both Cole and Heindel said they were at a meeting at which the issue was discussed.
According to Cole’s recollection and the regs, Cole said the commercial zone in question should run down to the Lewis Creek conservation zone on both sides of Route 7, but on the map does so only on the west side.
The plan describes the “North Business Planning Area,” which allows commercial uses, as running “south to the Conservation District associated with Lewis Creek.”
“The map stops short,” Cole said. “This map does not correspond with my memory, and it does not correspond with the text.”
Heindel said the selectboard could simply adjust the boundary line without returning the document to the planning commission for revision.
The selectboard said it would research the question before the next hearing — at least two are required before adoption.
“It’s a good point. The map might be wrong,” Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said.
Hinsdale, who attended planning commission hearings to seek a reversal of the mapping change, said he has never heard a clear explanation for it. He said he now leases a small portion of his 100-acre property to the Agency of Transportation for nearby highway work.
“Nobody in Ferrisburgh can tell me why the map got changed,” Hinsdale said.
Planner Arabella Holzapfel said the Route 7 zoning change was already in place “after a very public process” when she joined the commission in 2013.
She speculated the change was made to “consolidate commercial development” and prevent sprawl after the controversy surrounding approval of the Champlain Oil Co.’s gas station, McDonald’s Restaurant and convenience store project was approved.
Hinsdale said he did not believe that was an adequate explanation.
“I’m sick of being told the decision has been made, and nobody knows why,” Hinsdale said. “This is my chance … to come in and say what I think.”
Lawrence said the board would listen to Hinsdale. She added the selectboard would set a second hearing date at its May 16 meeting, and would be busy before then.
“In the meantime we’ll be doing some research,” Lawrence said.
State law requires the planning commission to revisit the plan they wrote if the selectboard makes “substantial” changes. But those at the meeting agreed a map change would only be minor.
“If it was wrong, just fix it. It’s not that big a deal,” said Kevin Rooney.
Although that change looks possible, even likely, the fate of Ferrisburgh’s North and South Industrial Planning Areas is less unclear.
Those industrial zones were not popular among those who spoke on Tuesday, but Lawrence said the selectboard has been working hand-in-hand with the planning commission during the five-year process of writing the plan.
“At this point we’re very supportive of it,” Lawrence said.
The southerly industrial zone has become a flashpoint because of the proposal by the DeVos family, which owns Kimball Brook Farm and a trucking business, to establish a truck depot on Tuppers Crossing near homes in the area.
Neighborhood resident Aubrey Choquette called the area unsuitable for industrial and commercial uses such as a truck depot, in part because of its surroundings and in part because the zone narrows as it heads north, making softening any development’s impact difficult.
“It is literally one lot wide sandwiched between three residences,” he said.
Choquette said choosing a zone carelessly, as he believes is the case on Tuppers Crossing, is unfortunate for residents and developers alike.
“If zoning districts are not chosen carefully, it can be very disruptive,” Choquette said, noting the proposed truck depot has created “significant and costly issues for all concerned,” including the DeVos family as well as residents.
John DeVos Jr. said he had faith in a project that will go before the Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment on June 7.
“We did buy the property with the understanding it was zoned industrial-commercial, and we have done everything to appease the state and the town,” said DeVos.
Hinsdale said he and the Long Point Homeowners Association are concerned about the northern industrial area, a small zone around the junction of the railroad and Long Point Road that includes ongoing concerns.
Railroads are no longer a rationale for industrial areas, said Hinsdale, who recommended grandfathering the existing firms and changing the zoning to reflect rural surroundings.
“It’s an idea that is about 50 years outdated,” he said.
A 20-acre industrial park in the zone would not be welcome, Hinsdale said.
“I think the outcry would be unbelievable,” Hinsdale said. “The Long Point Road railroad crossing is not an appropriate place.”
Holzapfel said such a development is not what planners envision there, but rather other businesses of the same scale as those already there, such as the Bowles Corp.
“Yeah, it’s zoned industrial. Maybe in Williston or South Burlington that means a 20-acre industrial park, but that’s not what it means in Ferrisburgh,” Holzapfel said.
Lawrence said selectboard members will sit down with planners before the next selectboard hearing.
“We want to meet with the planning commission to make sure we’re all on the same page,” she said.
Once the plan is adopted, something that is overdue, planners can rewrite zoning to reflect the new plan. Selectman Steve Gutowski said residents should come earlier and more often to that next process.
“People should attend those meetings and bring their thoughts,” Gutowski said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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