OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION REGULAR MEETING
October 14, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:07 p.m. Planning Commission members present were Sirean LaFlamme, Margaret Stoltzman, Brian McNeice, and Stephan Chait. Bill Pusey arrived shortly after the meeting opened. Also present were Kim Smith and Jeff Nugent (both representing Windham Regional Commission), Earl Holtz, Margo Avakian, Lynda Copeland, Arthur Copeland, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to the Agenda
There were no alterations to the agenda.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait made a motion to approve the 9/3/14 special meeting minutes, with one correction. Meggie Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed, 4-0.
Lynda Copeland Subdivision Approval Request
Commission members reviewed the documents detailing the plan to divide the 36.7-acre portion of Copeland property on the west side of Hanson Road into two lots. The Copelands own additional acreage on the east side of Hanson; that portion is not affected by the subdivision. The Board verified that notice letters had been sent to 19 abutters, wrote in names, on the permit map, of those abutters who share property lines with the new lot, and sketched in a position indicator for the proposed driveway. A map showing the full extent of the Copeland property with parcel identification numbers and an abutter’s key list will be added to the request paperwork. Margaret Stoltzman made a motion to approve the Copeland subdivision request as modified. Brian McNeice seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Windham Regional Commission Presentation—Forest Stewardship Project
Jeff Nugent (WRC GIS and mapping specialist) and Kim Smith (WRC planner) shared information about a multi-year stewardship project involving WRC and seven other Vermont state regional commissions. Nugent told the meeting there were two phases to the project, with WRC currently in the second stage. Each Regional Commission has been developing a regional forest stewardship plan; Kim Smith has been working on the Windham plan, which has just been approved. Nugent defined forest stewardship as “keeping forests as forests” —working forests for timber harvest, wildlife habitat, or open conservation. The second component of the project, he said, is working with two municipalities to implement some of the concepts of the stewardship plan. Of the 27 towns in the WRC district, two—Guilford and Halifax—were chosen for their large, undeveloped blocks of forested land high in productivity and private ownership. WRC is offering to work with the Halifax Planning Commission to review both the town plan and zoning by-laws with the objective of understanding the town’s planning goals and regulations as related to forestry and making recommendations for strengthening those policies to enhance forest stewardship in the town. Nugent said WRC could generate maps and data to assist with this process.
A question-and-answer session followed, which included discussion of Vermont’s Use Value Appraisal Program for forestry management, conservation, and harvesting. Stephan Chait asked for specifics of the proposed interaction between the town and WRC. Nugent described a process of research, evaluation, sharing of Natural Resources Council published materials, and exploring similar work being done in other towns. WRC would then prepare a report and recommendations aimed at assisting the town in drafting town plan and zoning by-law wording best suited to the town’s interests. In Guilford, where there is an active Conservation Commission but no zoning by-law, the WRC focus will be on landowner education for best practices.
Nugent asked the Commission about the town’s most important forest resources; logging, mulch and wood-pellet production, and sugaring operations were among the responses. Earl Holtz mentioned one sawyer and several portable mill operations in town. Answering a question about positive or negative trends observed over the past decade, Sirean LaFlamme said that on one hand more people are availing themselves of tax deductions by enrolling in the Current Use program, but as taxes continue to rise others are selling off or subdividing their properties. Halifax hasn’t seen any noticeable rise in development since the ‘60s, said Bill Pusey. Brian McNeice spoke of a slight building increase in the ‘90s which was short-lived. Other conversation covered the recent updating of the town plan and the ongoing zoning regulations revision process. Pusey said an attempt to add a commercial zone during the town plan update was opposed by a majority, but there are sections along Route 112 particularly suited to that purpose and he believes the alteration will eventually be necessary. The town has virtually no business tax receipts, he said; most tax revenue is from land.
Another question from Nugent: Halifax does not have a Conservation Commission, but if one were formed, what particularly pressing issues would the Planning Commission like to see addressed? We do have a conservation district, said Margo Avakian, and the proposal to site a quarry within that territory is currently raising questions regarding the precise definition of a conservation district. McNeice spoke of the Halifax Gorge as a location suitable for promotion as a town attraction and added that Deer Park Pond, although privately owned, would make an ideal town swimming area. Nugent said some towns, such as Marlboro, Wilmington, and Vernon, have town forests that provide recreational areas and other resources to residents. Chait returned to the subject of logging and, in particular, the impact of logging trucks on local roads. Nugent advised looking into how the town of Windham has approached that situation; Windham has a large commercial forested block of land with much logging activity. Meggie Stoltzman mentioned Guilford’s town trails, initiating conversation about legal trails and Class IV roads in Halifax—uses, and maintenance and enforcement needs.
Hearing of Visitors
McNeice asked for any updates on the Act 250 Denison Quarry application. Gabriel is waiting for word from April Hensel that the attorneys have found a mutually agreeable schedule. The Planning Commission’s set of questions has been forwarded to Hensel, but will be formally submitted to everyone with party status when that list is completed and received by the town.
Pusey made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:23 p.m. Meggie Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed, 5-0.
Planning Commission Secretary, pro tem