OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SPECIAL SELECTBOARD & PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING MINUTES
May 1, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:04 pm. Selectboard members in attendance were Edee Edwards, Lewis Sumner, and Earl Holtz. Planning Commission members John Brimmer, Sirean LaFlamme, William Pusey, and Margaret Stoltzman were also in attendance, with Brian McNeice absent.Others present were Robbin Gabriel, Phyllis Evanuk, Robert Fisher, Arthur Ferland, Marilyn Allen, Jim Coughlin, Nick Bartenhagen, Maggie Bartenhagen, Paul Taylor, Margo Avakian, Janet Taylor, Liz Laona, Sue Kelley, Rick Gay, Norman Fajans, and several other interested citizens.
Act 250 Permit
In an opening statement, Edwards said that she and a number of other Selectboard and Planning Commission members were new to the Act 250 process, and this meeting was an opportunity for everyone involved and interested to learn about the town’s role and responsibilities in the proceeding. She said that VLCT had recommended the Selectboard and Planning Commission work jointly to determine whether the details of the Act 250 proposal conform to the town plan, with the understanding that specific areas of economic impact might receive greater attention from the Selectboard while the Planning Commission would focus on environmental concerns.
Sumner then gave the floor to town attorney Robert Fisher, who advised that by law both the town and the Planning Commission were parties to the Act 250 application at the District Commission level. As parties, the Board and the Planning Commission will be able to attend the District Commission’s hearings. Fisher said there will likely be multiple hearings, with advance notification, and each of the ten criteria listed in the application will be addressed at those sessions. He recommended that during review the town examine whether they have an issue with each criteria, keeping in mind that for criteria 5-8 the burden of proving no adverse affect falls on the opponent, while burden of proof for criteria 1-4, 9, and 10, falls to the applicant. Fisher specified criteria 5, traffic, as a point for particular consideration and in response to a question from Edwards confirmed that if the town disagreed with the traffic impact findings outlined in the Act 250 application the town would need to hire a separate study done and present those results at the hearings.
Holtz asked which town plan would drive this project, noting that the new town plan was just passed in March. Fisher noted the March 6 signature on the application’s fee schedule—two days after the March 4th town meeting–and believes the review would reference the new town plan. Edwards said that comparison to the town plan was on the list of five additional pieces of information requested by the District Commission.
Edwards asked whether the town could request a site visit, and to whom such a request should be addressed. Fisher said a site visit would occur even without a request, but the question could be addressed to April Hensel, the Natural Resources Board District Coordinator.
Fisher encouraged communication between the town, the Halifax Fire Department, Halifax EMS, and Deerfield Valley Rescue. While the latter three entities are private enterprises and not parties to the Act 250 process, they might choose to request party status or, if not, they should be given an opportunity to make known to the town any concerns they may have about how the project might affect their ability to provide emergency services.
Fisher explained both the Act 250 permit and the town zoning permit had to be approved before the project could commence. These are separate procedures, and generally the zoning permit must be in place before the Act 250 permit can be granted. Should the process reach the appeals level the two permits are considered jointly and are subject to a single ruling. In describing his past Act 250 experience Fisher said that towns, rather than taking a stance for or against, generally came to hearings prepared with a list of considerations they would like to see addressed before the permit was approved. If the town feels that portions the town plan are not adequately addressed in the permitting application, they should submit these points to the District Commission for consideration. When voicing concerns to the District Coordinator the town should designate a spokesperson to avoid repetitive or inconsistent communication.
In response to questions from the floor, Fisher noted that portions of criteria 9 dealt with economic impact, for instance, rural growth areas, development affecting public investments, energy conservation, and utility services. On the subject of fire protection he said that requesting a water source, perhaps a small pond or dry hydrant, would be a reasonable condition proposal. This would be a good subject for discussion with the fire department. At the site, a separate permit would be required for storm water, and possibly an Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit, depending on wetlands determination. Holtz noted that the permit application includes documentation on several site visits already made by the state to assess wetlands. In attempting to define the proposed project as light or heavy industry, Fisher advised looking first to the town plan and the zoning regulations for appropriate description, then researching previous cases and rulings on the Act 250 web site. He agreed the site could be difficult to navigate but has found that using the search term “e-notes” on State of Vermont/Agency of Natural Resources web page produces an excellent index of Act 250 decisions very useful in research.
Questions were also raised about the adequacy of proposed fencing around sedimentation ponds, the various types of tests and studies available to assess noise factors, who oversees compliance with permit conditions, possible permit time limits, and what happens to the site once it shuts down. Fisher said a closure or reclamation plan is part of the permitting process; the applicant is usually required to establish a reclamation fund or escrow account for that purpose.
Edwards said a factor to consider as the permit process unfolds is that zoning regulations are in the process of re-write, and at present the town plan does not align perfectly with existing zoning law. Pusey posed a question regarding the best way to keep everyone apprised of individual concerns. It was agreed that for efficiency and clear communication anyone with an interest should plan to voice their comments at future meetings or present them to town officials in written form. Fisher noted that public input would be important as the Boards made decisions about how to address specific permit criteria.
Edwards said she would send emails to emergency services and the fire department, and suggested putting the traffic study question on next Tuesday’s meeting agenda. Sumner mentioned that Deerfield Valley Rescue planned to attend the May 6 meeting. Fisher suggested a good next step would be for the Boards to create an impact statement for each section of the town plan they believe may be affected by the permitting process.
Sirean LaFlamme asked which project–the Act 250 permit or the zoning re-write–should take precedence, as both require many hours of effort. Holtz said the Act 250 task was a legal requirement and Fisher suggested an effective way of reviewing the materials from the Planning Commission standpoint would be to read through the ten-page application and then focus on the document’s town plan section. Holtz will make the thumb drive available, either on the web site or by making copies, as soon as he receives it.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:10 pm.