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Ferrisburgh nears approval of municipal town plan

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard last week at its second public hearing on a proposed new town plan heard debate on what is apparently the final issue holding up its adoption — a proposed mapping change that would move a couple of properties along Route 7 from a Highway Commercial District to a less permissive Conservation zone.
The properties in question are just north of Lewis Creek on the east side of the state highway. Properties opposite the land in question on Route 7’s west side are set to remain in the Highway Commercial zone, according to the map proposed by the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission and drawn by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
The land in the area is part of what the plan describes as the “North Business Planning Area,” which allows commercial uses and is defined as running “south to the Conservation District associated with Lewis Creek.”
Clark Hinsdale, owner of one of the east side properties that would be affected, is lobbying the selectboard to over-rule the planning commission and redraw the map back to its previous boundaries.
Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence, for one, agrees with that point of view, which will be decided when the board holds its third and probably final hearing on the plan, likely in early August. That date may be determined when the selectboard meets on Monday, July 3.
“To me it seems like the simplest solution, and that’s what I will be recommending to the board,” Lawrence said. “It makes the most sense at this point.”
In a document submitted to the planning commission at its first formal public hearing on the proposed plan, held on March 15, Hinsdale wrote in describing the change he sought:
“In the North Business area, I would recommend that the area be extended south to the edge of the Conservation District and at least 200 feet further to the east or to the edge of the Conservation District … Part of this area is already zoned village district and should remain so.”
Selectman Rick Ebel also researched the past several years of planning commission minutes related to the town plan trying to find planners’ rationale for altering the map, and according to Lawrence in a June 28 email “reported to the board that he could not find any evidence supporting the proposed change.”
But at both selectboard hearings on the plan, planning commission members said they had undergone a multi-year process in crafting the document that should now be respected. On May 9, 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.
According to Lawrence in her email, both Holzapfel and fellow planner Gail Blasius last week “spoke strongly against making any changes to the map. They both felt that it was too late for changes.”
Hinsdale, however, Lawrence wrote, “stated that he is not coming to the board at the ‘eleventh’ hour. He has been pursuing this issue for the past two years” and has “emails and correspondence to back up his statements.”
Lawrence noted in a Thursday interview the fact that Hinsdale “has a folder that shows correspondence and emails” showing he raised the issue previous to this year, but said the fact he submitted testimony at the first planning commission hearing on the new plan should have been enough to have his point be taken seriously.
“Clark submitted on March 15 a written proposal at the very first hearing, and that should have been early enough in the process,” she said.
If the selectboard makes the change, there remains the question of whether it would require the entire plan be sent back to the planning commission — as it must if the change is determined to be major — or whether the change would be considered minor, thus allowing the board to adopt the plan after its third public hearing.
Lawrence said because the plan language seems to support the change it appears to be minor, but the point is being researched.
“We’re looking into that, but we’re believing at this point it’s a minor change,” she said.
Lawrence also emphasized the overall quality of the plan and cooperative nature of the effort between planners and selectboard in writing it, which at one point included a three-hour joint meeting.
“We work so well together,” Lawrence said.

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