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New Bristol zoning updates have a business-friendly slant

Main Street in Bristol

BRISTOL — While choosing among candidates for federal, state and local offices this past Tuesday, Bristol voters also approved updates to the 2017 Bristol Zoning Regulations, which advocates say will make the town more business-friendly.
Three of the most significant things the updates do is
1. add to the town plan a set of “Subdivision Regulations” that will give Bristol more local control over business development;
2. change the name of the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) to the “Development Review Board” (DRB); and
3. assign the local business development review process to this renamed DRB.
SUBDIVISION REGULATIONS
“By having subdivision regulations (Bristol) can review commercial projects over one acre and up to five acres,” Bristol Planning Commission Chair Katie Raycroft-Meyer told the Independent.
The town’s previous zoning regulations stipulated that projects more than an acre in size would have to go through the state’s Act 250 permitting process, which assesses projects for environmental, community and other impacts, and which can be quite expensive.
The review process outlined in the new subdivision regulations is largely similar to the one set out in Act 250, but raising the threshold to five acres will give Bristol the ability to approve more business projects, Raycroft-Meyer said.
Had they been adopted several years ago, the subdivision regulations would have applied to — and made life easier for — recent local projects such as the Stoney Hill Business Park and the relocation of Hillside Precision from Starksboro to its current home on Route 116 in Bristol, Raycroft-Meyer pointed out.
The “Subdivision Regulations” were added to the existing “Town of Bristol Zoning Regulations,” and those two sets of regulations combined will now be called the “Bristol Unified Development Regulations” (UDR).
“The new regulations still contain Bristol’s zoning and floodplain regulations, but now also contains subdivision regulations and provide a comprehensive and unified review of land use in the town of Bristol,” said the Planning Commission in an Aug. 7 memo accompanying its proposal.
The UDR will support responsible growth in Bristol while at the same time making the town more business friendly, Raycroft-Meyer said.
The Independent reached out to Greg Cousino of Hillside Precision for a comment on the updated regulations, but he did not respond in time for this story.
‘ZBA’ IS NOW ‘DRB’
“The Planning Commission also proposes to shift the responsibility for the review of all development from its Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment to one new body named the Development Review Board,” wrote the Planning Commission in August. “The Planning Commission believes that unifying the review function will make the review process more efficient and predictable because the same board will be responsible for reviewing all types of development that need to be reviewed beyond administrative permits issued by the Zoning Administrator.”
This doesn’t mean, however, that the Zoning Board of Adjustment (or any of its members) is going away. It’s simply getting renamed to the Development Review Board, and getting additional responsibilities.
To take on those additional responsibilities, the ZBA/DRB is going to need a full set of members.
According to Raycroft-Meyer the seven-member board has three vacancies, so now would be a good time for Bristol residents interested in the town’s business development to step up and serve.
VOTER TURNOUT
Bristol voters on Tuesday approved the updates by a count of 362-255, or 58.7% to 41.3%.
The turnout of 617, or 27.3%, was significantly lower than the town’s total election turnout of 2,263, or 71.2%, in part because the local ballot was separate from the General Election ballot and was not automatically mailed to all Bristol voters.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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