Town of Halifax, Vermont

September 11, 2012

The Selectboard attended the Planning Commission meeting at 8:15 PM at the town office in order to ask questions regarding the VT Telecommunications Authority cell phone service grant, and to attend a presentation by John Bennett of the Windham Regional Commission. Board members in attendance were Lewis Sumner, Edee Edwards, and Earl Holtz. Planning Commission members in attendance were John Brimmer, Brad Rafus, Howard Alboum, Phyllis Evanuk, Linda Smith, Bill Pusey, and Brian McNeil. Others in attendance were Jessica Bruno, Margo Avakian, and Craig Stone.

Cell Phone Service Grant

Earl Holtz informed the Planning Commission that the town was contacted by the VT Telecommunications Authority to participate in a grant program that would provide cell phone service along Route 112. To participate, we need a location for the battery back-up system. The Selectboard thought the town garage would be a good place. Holtz inquired whether there would be any planning/ zoning restrictions? The Commission thought that perhaps height may be a restriction. Holtz explained that the system is a set of antennas to be placed on existing telephone poles. A WiFi center will also be placed wherever the backup equipment is placed. The antennas are believed to be 1’x1’x 1/2’. Holtz believes that it is a satellite system to switch, and then switch to telephone pole system. Holtz is looking for any rules and regulations that need to be investigated. Alboum expressed that he did not see anything in violation of zoning regulations. Smith inquired which carriers would have access to provide service. Holtz replied that any carrier can provide service. Edwards added that a company called Coverage Co resells the spectrum.

Windham Regional Commission Presentation

John Bennett of the Windham Regional Commission presented an overview of the programs and projects, discussed local planning needs, and discussed town plan implementation.

Overview of Programs and Projects

GIS Service Center- helps convert tax maps from CAD to GIS format.

Community Development Program- helps towns explore applying for designated village center status.

Transportation Program- helps towns update culvert and bridge inventories. Assists with questions concerning maintenance before Irene and what needs to be done after Irene.

Energy Program- performs energy audits on municipal buildings. Cullen Meves from WRC will be working on this program.

Natural Resources Program- there is an application to do a stream geomorphic assessment of Green River. It will identify areas prone to instability during high flows. This information will be particularly useful for land use and transportation planning.

Project Review Committee

Hazard & Emergency Planning

Hazard Mitigation Planning

Stone mentioned that the Franklin County Council of Governments had an energy program in which they paired up with Siemens to implement changes after energy audits. He added that they install the equipment and finance the changes for 5-10 years so the burden does not all fall on the taxpayers. Bennett explained that the energy program was grant funded in the past and not paid by the town.

Where has the WRC been most valuable?

Edwards commented that the WRC did a fabulous job with communications during Irene. Nugent’s map of open roads was very useful. The Bartenhagens often bring useful information about workshops and other info. Rafus agreed regarding communications and added that when he has called looking for information, they either know the answer, or can guide you to the person who can help. Edwards added that Dinah Reed did a good job of bringing people together for Broadband regionally. Bennett added that there is a definite disconnect with Broadband issues.

Where could the WRC be of more assistance?

Edwards replied they could be more helpful in helping to get broadband and cell phone coverage. Holtz added that we would like communication of the status of where Broadband is as VTel refuses to communicate. Smith added that in addition to lack of access being an economic issue, that it is also an issue of public safety.

Edwards also suggested that we try to think about trying to understand regional transportation from a roads perspective. There are paved vs unpaved roads, what are the real access routes? Mud season is a real problem, so let’s think about it as a region.

McNeil expressed that he would like more help with routine zoning questions and expressed that the WRC has not been helpful in the past.

On another note, Edwards expressed that she gets e-mails from the Bartenhagens regarding WRC meetings and trainings. She inquired if there is someone on the Planning Commission that would like this documentation? Evanuk said to e-mail it to her and she will pass it along to the appropriate parties.

Do you hear enough from the WRC?

The consensus was yes, they do.

Suggestions to improve communications?

-Send communications to Evanuk.

-Would like assistance with zoning questions.


Issues the WRC can help with?

Edwards expressed that Dummerston was not happy with their evacuation plan and are planning a meeting with WRC as they have questions about whether they really have a plan that works for the community. Edwards inquired whether this meeting is only for Dummerston or is it open to all?

Bennett explained that Dummerston brought up problems with the Vermont Yankee evacuation plan. The state acknowledged that there are problems, and will work with the local level.

Edwards will contact Dinah Reed to find out if the meeting is open to other towns.

Local Planning Needs

Bennett expressed that Halifax has a decent plan. The review panel had comments and recommendations. He recommends that we focus our energy on the implementation section. This section is canned, out of date, and not action oriented. The WRC is encouraging towns to be more proactive.

Bennett noted that there is a new requirement for an economic development element 24 VSA section 4382.

Bennett expressed that the odds of getting a grant are good based on the assumption that the State will give us as much money as they usually do. Around $800k will be available statewide. WRC has approximately 6 towns in the process for applying for $7,900-$8,000.

Training Needs of the Municipality

Bennett noted that other towns have asked for help with website development, but Halifax seems to be doing well compared to other towns. Other towns have also asked for training for audits. Let him know if we think of any areas where we would like training.

Towns Local Permitting

Bennett noted that Halifax bylaws are relatively up to date and relatively implement the plan.

McNeil noted that we need our bylaws reviews to ensure they are statutorily compliant.  He noted that the way they are written is not suited to small towns. Is there another town that has re-written them as it seems like they can be written better. Bennett noted that they showed Whitingham district samples from around the region, but they are all very similar.

Bennett explained that a Development Review Board (DRB) undertakes all of the quasi-judicial responsibilities of the Zoning Board and Planning Commission. All of the review capacity is done by the DRB and it’s quite effective. Evanuk expressed that in a town of this size, it may be difficult to get more people to sit on a separate Board. Bennett noted that some or all of the members of the DRB of the Planning Commission, but having the DRB helps break the meetings down.

Permitting Process Issues

Bennett noted that some towns have issues with flood regulations. Halifax may not have any problems here, but if there are any issues, contact the WRC.

Bennett also noted that the WRC is trying to re-instate the zoning administration brown bag lunches quarterly.

Priorities Related to Implementing a Town Plan

Alboum expressed that the town addressed developing a commercial zoning area as a priority. The town sent surveys and the people in town were not interested in a commercial zone.

Designated Village Center

Bennett explained that the DEHCD has a raft of designations that the town can apply for. Village Center is the most elastic of the designations. See attached for benefits for village center districts. The WRC can help with the application for village center designation.

Bennett left the meeting at 9:35pm.

Other Business

Smith asked the Selectboard if they would support the planning commission financially if they do not get the grant for the new town plan? She expressed that there are a lot of technical issues and we do not have the ability to create and produce the plan. If they do not get the grant, they will still need to hire someone with expertise in this area to assist. Smith asked if the Selectboard will support up to $8k if they do not get the grant?

Edwards replied that we did not budget to bear the full cost. She believes they need to look at the budget. She anticipates being in a better state with the FEMA reimbursements, but she does not know when.

Smith believes that $5-7k would be more than sufficient. Evanuk added that State issues the grants, but they are administered through the WRC. If we ask the WRC to administer it, it gets paid for out of the grant.

Edwards also added that we need to look at our purchasing policy so see if we could sole-source justify something like this.

Edwards expressed that it is very unlikely that the Selectboard wouldn’t support this effort.

Edwards thanked the Planning Commission members for the time they spend, and for volunteering and serving the town.

The Selectboard members left the Planning Commission meeting at 9:45 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Jessica Bruno

Selectboard Secretary