OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING
March 10, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. Planning Commission members Brian McNeice, Stephan Chait, Meggie Stoltzman, and Bill Pusey were present. As Sirean LaFlamme was unable to attend, Brian McNeice agreed to Chair the meeting. John Bennett (Windam Regional Commission), Edee Edwards, Douglas Grob, Nicholas Bartenhagen, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
Changes and/or Additions to the Agenda
Stephan Chait said he would report on the Friday, March 6th Act 250 hearing.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Meggie Stoltzman made a motion to approve the 2/10/15 regular meeting minutes as amended for clarification. Bill Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0.
Chait made a motion to approve the 2/26/15 special meeting minutes as amended. Pusey seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0.
Consider Proposing Separate Article Dealing with Earth/Mineral Extraction
John Bennett proposed discussing this topic before continuing with the general rewrite effort. He distributed several handouts, including examples of earth and mineral extraction definitions from other Vermont towns, and a working draft including the portions of current Halifax zoning regulations pertaining to earth and mineral extraction. Given the present controversy surrounding earth/mineral extraction in the town, Bennett suggested the Commission address the definitions of “resource industry” and “earth/mineral extraction” and prepare an updated version of same to be presented to the voters, in the form of an amendment, in accordance with state statutes requiring public Planning Commission and Selectboard hearings and, ultimately, a vote by Australian ballot at a special Town Meeting. Treating these definitions separately would, he hoped, allow the balance of the zoning regulations rewrite to proceed in more orderly fashion. Having received favorable response from Sirean LaFlamme and Edee Edwards in preliminary discussion, he put this idea before the Planning Commission. In conjunction with the separate amendment proposal, Bennett promoted the advisability of two additional meetings—one in March and one in April—to assure sufficient time in which to complete the rewrite project before the WRC contract ends in May.
Edwards said there was precedent for separate amendments in the Town’s past revision of zoning regulations. Brian McNeice wondered whether such action would create additional controversy. Bill Pusey suggested the current Act 250 applicants had made their decision to proceed based on existing zoning bylaw wording, which appears to allow their proposed project. Part of the confusion derives from the Town Plan’s inclusion of state planning goals within its pages. Bennett explained that, originally, most town plans were written based on state goals; today some town plans have evolved to include more detailed specifics while others still rely primarily on the state’s objectives. When towns request regional planning commission review and approval, the regional commission must find that the town plan is consistent with state goals and contains certain state-required elements. Under the Halifax Town Plan’s definition of “resource industry,” the phrase “includes earth and mineral extraction” may have led attorneys to believe earth and mineral extraction would be allowed in a conservation district. The decision to include those words was perhaps based on concerns the town might limit its ability to access gravel deposits. Chait speculated resistance to a potential town-operated gravel extraction project would also be great, as the primary argument in opposition to such activity appears to be quality of life. A gravel extraction operation would be short-lived, said McNeice, and of benefit to the town. Should the Town desire freedom to extract gravel anywhere within its environs, offered Stoltzman, wording could be included to cover that eventuality.
After discussion, the Commission chose to proceed with fashioning a separate amendment revising the definition of “resource industry” and creating a definition for “earth and mineral extraction.” Chait felt the necessary work on those two definitions could be completed in one meeting. Commissioners spent time reviewing definitions used in other towns and discussing interpretations of wording. They decided upon using Newfane town’s definition of earth and mineral extraction, with several revisions.
McNeice made a motion to advance the earth and mineral extraction definition and clarify the definition of “resource industry” separately from the balance of the zoning update. Pusey seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
McNeice made a motion to modify the resource industry definition to eliminate the sentence fragment “includes earth and mineral extraction” and to create an earth and mineral extraction definition to read: “Earth and Mineral Extraction: A use involving the on-site removal of surface and subsurface materials, including soil, sand, gravel, stone, rock or organic substances other than vegetation, from land. Customary extraction operations include sand and gravel pits, rock quarries, and accessory operations such as the crushing, screening and temporary storage of materials excavated on-site.” Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
If the quarry permit is not approved, asked Pusey, might the applicants return with the argument that bylaw wording was unclear? They’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in their endeavor. Doug Grob said that usually permit requestors come to the town first, before pursuing an Act 250 permit. The Town has not received a permit application, replied Stoltzman.
The next step, advised Bennett, is to prepare a written report on the proposal consistent with the applicable state statutes. The state provides a form for this purpose. The completed report will be available for examination in the town offices. A public hearing, warned at least 15 days in advance, will then be held. The Planning Commission can make revisions to the proposed amendment if the results of the hearing so indicate. The amendment is then submitted to the Selectboard for consideration. That Board must hold one or more warned public hearings not less than 15 days nor more than 120 days after receipt of the submission. Thereafter, a special Town Meeting will be held during which the amendment will be voted on by Australian ballot.
The Planning Commission will meet again with Bennett at 7:00 p.m. on March 24th to address the required report; he will work with Gabriel in the interval to prepare a draft. Bennett will also provide in the near future—for Planning Commission review—a section-by-section report on the balance of the zoning regulations highlighting previously agreed-upon revisions.
Act 250 Hearing/Denison-Ashfield Quarry Permit Application
Chait gave a brief overview of the Friday, March 6th, Act 250 hearing proceedings. He mentioned the lack of agreement regarding acoustics and outlined his and Edwards presentation in reference to Criterion 10: Town Plan. Edwards thanked Bennett and the Planning Commission for their efforts in preparation for the Act 250 hearings, and recommended a future discussion about what has been learned from participation in the process. The Act 250 hearing was not adjourned, but recessed, added Chait, leaving open the possibility of additional requests for information or another session. He also mentioned a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 11, in the Wilmington Town Hall for the purpose of hearing comments on proposed revisions to Act 250 rules. Information on these proposed changes can be found online at http://www.nrb.state.vt.us/rulemaking/act250/act25020152.htm.
Hearing of Visitors
McNeice made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 9:16 p.m. Chait seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
Planning Commission Secretary