OFFICE OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
Town of Halifax, Vermont
PLANNING COMMISSION SPECIAL MEETING
March 24, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. Planning Commission members Sirean LaFlamme, Brian McNeice, Margaret Stoltzman, and Stephan Chait were present; William Pusey was unable to attend. Also in attendance were Town Attorney Robert Fisher, Windham Regional Commission’s John Bennett, Edee Edwards, Susan Kelly, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to the Agenda
Sirean LaFlamme requested a change in the New Business agenda order; namely moving the discussion with Bob Fisher to the second slot on the list.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Stephan Chait made a motion to approve the 3/10/15 regular meeting minutes with two additions. Brian McNeice seconded the motion as amended. The motion passed, 3-0-1, with LaFlamme abstaining.
Update of Zoning Regulations with John Bennett
Bennett distributed a collection of reference materials related to the overall zoning rewrite process, and also handed out a proposed amendment draft and reporting form pertaining to the definition revisions currently under consideration. He noted that while the Planning Commission’s March 10th decision to submit two zoning regulation definitions for voter approval in the form of a separate amendment was fairly straightforward, several revisions agreed on during the January meeting but not revisited during the March 10th meeting made the issue more complex. Specifically, it was voted on March 10th to introduce a new definition, titled “Earth and Mineral Extraction,” and remove the phrase “Includes earth and mineral extraction” from the definition of “Resource Industry.” During the January meeting, however, decisions were made (but not voted on) to delete the words “but excluding those activities in the definition of Agricultural Use” from the resource industry definition, and a further decision was made to remove Resource Industry entirely from the list of conditional uses under Conservation District.
The current resource industry definition also contains the phrase “including saw mills,” and Bob Fisher pointed out that a saw mill could be a small home unit on a farmstead or a large commercial operation. He suggested a distinction could be made by specifying number of employees, or board feet produced. The Commissioners agreed to give this question attention when they returned to the main body of zoning rewrite work.
Resource industry, offered Meggie Stoltzman, seems a strange, unclear phrase. Does anyone else use the term?, asked Edee Edwards. Bennett and Fisher thought Brattleboro might use it. One solution, said Edwards, would be to remove the term completely. That would imply removing it as a conditional use in all three districts, Chait pointed out. Aside from saw mills, the Board suggested pellet production, firewood processing, shavings mills, and compost production as activities which could be incorporated in the resource industry definition to assist in clarifying the term should it be retained.
Discussion with Town Attorney Robert Fisher
Fisher and Commission members embarked upon a discussion of possible consequences should they proceed with their plan to introduce a separate zoning amendment in advance of the full regulatory revision. The primary question on which the Board sought Fisher’s advice concerned whether that separate amendment could be considered “spot zoning.” An earlier citizens’ petition for interim zoning on the earth and mineral extraction issue had been rejected, explained LaFlamme, for exactly that reason. The current Act 250 procedure is an entirely separate process, said Fisher, and as the town itself has not yet received a zoning permit application related to the proposed quarry, putting forth a zoning amendment should not be a problem. Per Vermont statute, he continued, a permit request received by the town prior to Selectboard hearings on the zoning amendment would be considered under current regulations. A permit application presented following the Selectboard hearing but within a 150-day interval preceding a vote at Special Town Meeting must be reviewed under both current and revised zoning. If the zoning amendment is then approved by town vote the new zoning regulation applies. Edwards said she really wanted to put this issue before the voters, learn the town’s sentiments regarding what is allowable in the Conservation District, and clear the path for the rest of the zoning rewrite to advance. Stoltzman, too, said she didn’t have a good sense of the townspeople’s wishes on the subject. A lot of people have come to meetings saying they don’t want the quarry to happen, she added, and one man spoke in favor, but I have no sense of the larger voice of the town. Brian McNeice mentioned the petition presented last fall by those not opposed to the quarry project and Chait, who had not seen the document, asked about the wording. Were these people for the quarry, or were they simply unconcerned by the proposed project? A copy of the petition was produced and found to read, “Legal voters in the town of Halifax who are NOT against the quarry project.” The word “not” is in bold and underlined. Suppose, said Sue Kelly, the definitions were approved by vote but the rest of the revisions were not approved, or vice versa. Each part impacts the other; changing the definitions doesn’t just change the definitions, it changes every place where those words are used. If the only alteration to the resources industry definition is the deletion of the phrase “includes earth and mineral extraction,” suggested Bennett, it should be very clear from the conditional use tables that while earth and mineral extraction is allowed in the Village and Rural Residential districts it is very specifically not allowed in the Conservation district. Fisher had another proposal: Rewrite the resource industry definition to read “excludes” rather than “includes” earth and mineral extraction. That would draw the distinction very clearly, he added. Subsequent conversation covered best methods of assuring voters had a straightforward understanding of what a yes or no vote on the proposed amendment would mean.
Fisher advised presenting a menu of separate items to the voters, including but not limited to the controversial issue currently proposed. The general consensus, however, was that dissension on the earth and mineral extraction topic far outweighed concerns regarding any other aspect of the zoning rewrite.
Vermont statutes spell out the amendment processing steps thus: The Planning Commission prepares a report on the proposal and a copy of the amendment must be delivered to the Regional Planning Commission and other parties at least 15 days before the Planning Commission holds at least one public hearing on the amendment. Revisions can be made to the amendment based on input received during the hearing, the amendment then goes to the Selectboard, and that Board holds at least one public hearing not less than 15 days nor more than 120 days after receipt of the amendment from the Planning Commission. Thereafter, the Selectboard sets the time of a Special Town Meeting at which registered voters will cast an Australian ballot.
Bennett explained the various components required for inclusion in the initial report. He and Gabriel will prepare the document with the objective of obtaining Commissioners’ vote of approval at the April 14th regular meeting.
McNeice made a motion to repeal the vote taken March 10th, which modified the language of the resource industry definition, and to replace that language with the wording included in the motion to follow. Stoltzman seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
Chait made a motion to modify the language of the resource definition as follows: “Resource Industry: An activity involved in the primary processing of agricultural or forestry products sourced on-site, excluding earth and mineral extraction. Examples of resource industries are saw mills, firewood processing, pellet products, shaving mills, and compost production,” 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.” McNeice seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
Fisher offered some advice on subdivisions, another area the Planning Commission will be considering as their work continues. Some towns, he said, allow simple subdivision permit requests to be handled by their Zoning Administrator, without a requirement for a Planning Commission hearing. He also suggested subdivision regulations could be written giving the Commission the ability to waive the necessity of a survey under certain conditions. Surveys certainly assist with clarity, he said, but they are expensive, and may not be needed in some situations.
New Member Discussion
Two individuals—Nick Bartenhagen and Linda Lyon—have expressed interest in joining the Planning Commission. There was some concern regarding Bartenhagen’s stand in opposition to the proposed quarry project, but it was pointed out that board members with conflicts of interest can recuse themselves. Stoltzman recommended Lyon as organized, reliable, and enthusiastic. Stoltzman’s resignation is effective April 1st; her departure will also leave an opening on the Zoning Board. Chait affirmed for Edwards his interest in filling that latter position. For McNeice, the primary concern is willingness to work and continuity. LaFlamme was pleased to have two potential candidates and said she was fine with both, though she asked about scheduling conflicts for Bartenhagen, who is also a representative to the Regional Planning Commission. Planning Commission and Zoning Board members are appointed by the Selectboard.
Discuss Planning Commission Secretary Position
Gabriel told the meeting that while she will continue as Planning Commission secretary, she is currently holding several different jobs for the town and would willingly relinquish the position should someone come forward with a desire to serve.
Hearing of Visitors
Chait made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 9:49 p.m. McNeice seconded the motion, which passed 4-0.
Planning Commission Secretary