December 17, 2007
By ANDY KIRKALDY
ADDISON — Addison’s multi-year effort to put new zoning laws into place came to an end on Nov. 27, when selectmen adopted the planning commission’s latest version of updated regulations. Planners had forwarded that version to the selectboard earlier this year.
Selectmen acted immediately after a Nov. 27 public hearing that, unlike earlier hearings on proposed zoning, was sparsely attended. In the spring of 2006 about 200 residents came to a hearing on planners’ initial proposal, and not to heap praise on it — most said proposed zoning laws were too restrictive.
After that meeting planners went back to the drawing board for about a dozen-and-a-half meetings, most of which were also attended by former Addison selectboard chairman Tim Buskey. They worked to create the laws that 30 residents at a May 2007 public hearing generally found acceptable, and that selectmen approved on Nov. 27 after a few more changes.
Current selectboard Chairman Jeff Kauffman said selectmen saw declining attendance at the public hearings as a sign that residents had accepted the new laws, which ended up not making too many dramatic changes to former regulations.
“Our thinking was the questions must have been answered, and the (new) regs are pretty similar to what we have,” Kauffman said.
Planning commission Chairwoman Sally Conway, who plans to step down from the planning board after 12 years when her term expires in March, said planners don’t believe the new laws are ideal, but a key new element will make adapting the laws to the town’s needs easier in the future.
The laws created a separate development review board (DRB) to handle all zoning applications. Planners think that move will free them to focus on the town’s future and on fine-tuning zoning if necessary.
“They (the new laws) are the not perfect end result. This document, as in any document, will need to be tweaked, and that’s what the new planning commission will do,” Conway said.
Kauffman said that the separate boards gave selectmen confidence moving forward.
“One of the things we talked about at the public hearing is it’s a living document, and now that we have a DRB and a planning commission it will be easier to adapt the document,” he said.
Most of the changes since May simply clarified language and corrected typos, officials said. Conway said planners also increased a square footage limit on business signs that had been mistakenly left too small, and they added a state definition of “best agricultural practices” to clarify agricultural definitions used in the regulations.
The changes planners made after the more contentious 2006 hearing were more significant, Conway said.
“We took everyone’s comments into account. We had a two- or three-page list. In May (2007) at the public hearing, there were a few concerns, but nothing like we had the year before,” she said.
Changes made after the 2006 hearing included clarifications in sections regulating signs, exterior lighting, temporary homes and trailers, and weddings and other functions held on private property.
The final document does include a number of changes from the former zoning regulations, which were adopted in 1989 and amended in 1997 and 1999. As well as creating the DRB, significant differences include:
• Splitting the town’s current “Shoreland Planned Residential” zoning district into two districts: Shoreland Residential and Shoreland Recreation districts. The recreation district has a more commercial influence, planners said.
The Shoreland Residential district is intended to “protect the present residential character of the town’s northern portion of the lakeshore, while the Shoreland Recreation district lies mostly west of Routes 125 and 17 and runs to the shoreline and is “intended to support and encourage the development of recreation on the shores of Lake Champlain.
Both are intended to encourage “the long-term environmental protection of the lake and its shorelands,” and include the same section offering “Recommended Guidelines” for “Shoreland Buffer Management.”
• Creating a new “Village Commercial District” near the intersection of Routes 17 and 22A. The district permits a wide range of commercial uses on half-acre lots, and allows more uses on a conditional basis.
• Updating many sections of the law to reflect new state laws. For example, in-law apartments and home occupations are by-right uses in most districts now.
• Requiring conditional use permits, including evidence of adequate septic systems, for conversion of seasonal camps into year-round homes. Conway said planners were concerned about pollution and runoff into Lake Champlain.
• Adding more specifics to laws regulating signs, parking, and functions like weddings, festivals and concerts.
• Adding more details and emphasis on laws encouraging planned unit developments. Conway said in the past that planners believe clustering homes is preferable to “taking a chunk a farmland and subdividing two lots out of it.”