Town Plan public hearing continues at special Selectboard meeting

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The Jan. 23 special Selectboard meeting heard a lengthy discussion about a suspension bridge, built on town property, that crossed the LaPlatte River.

By Sheri Duff

A request by resident Bob Bick that the Selectboard discuss a method whereby non-residents may use the town beach and establish a fee schedule consistent with other communities kicked off the special Selectboard meeting on Thursday, Jan. 23.

Next on the agenda, Town Planner Dean Pierce explained an opportunity to submit a grant application to the Chittenden County Regional Planning for a study of the impacts of expanding the Sewer Service Area (SSA). Selectboard member Toni Supple expressed concern that specific objectives and the scope of work were not developed, but agreed it was a good idea to look at the cost. Member Al Gobeille spoke against doing the study, suggesting, “We should consider if we want to hand a new Selectboard and a new Town Manager such a contentious issue.” Planning Commissioner Ron Bouchard supported the study and observed, “We need to shed some light on dark areas of the matter and come to a reasonable conclusion.” In the end, the Board approved to empower the Town Manager to craft, draft, and release a request for study of expansion of the SSA from Regional Planning.

The Shelburne Comprehensive Town Plan public hearing was then re-opened. Changes to Volume 1 of the Plan appeared minor until the Board reached the section of growth and development. Member Gobeille reiterated the extensive discussion the Selectboard had on the population growth number. He insisted that showing the population in 1960 and 10-year increments will reveal the trend in town growth. “The numbers do not represent housing growth in town because housing growth does not match population growth,” Gobeille stated. “Housing growth was steady when population growth was declining.”

Supple responded that the language in the Plan was a ‘cap’ which is different from an ‘average’ and added that sustained growth rate of 110 persons per year, over 50 years, is not accurate. The 110 number was a maximum when there was rapid growth. Over the past two decades the average growth rate has been 10.5 percent. Supple stressed it would be responsible planning to indicate a 10.5 percent growth rate over the next 20 years (an average of 75 persons per year or 40-41 housing units).

Board member Allison Cranmer stated, “While I can appreciate Toni’s passion…unless three members of the panel are willing to support her requested change we [the Board] need to move on.” With no support, the discussion moved to Volume 2 changes.

Minor changes to the section on childcare were discussed by Planning Commissioner Ann Hogan. Her suggestions were: listing Vermont Community Loan Fund as a funding provider to childcare centers; use consistent language; and include an explanation of ‘registered’ and ‘licensed’ daycare.

A motion to continue the public hearing on the Comprehensive Plan update was unanimously approved by the Board. Staff incorporated any remaining amendments into the Plan for action at the Selectboard meeting on Jan. 28.

After a brief executive session, Hope Johnson addressed the Selectboard during their regular meeting last Tuesday night. She stated that although an order from the Public Service Board (PSB) for the proposed wireless communications tower on Air Park Road was received, the location, consistency with the Town Plan, and aesthetics was inaccurate. Johnson noted the following:

  • Inaccuracies of the PSB documents should be addressed.
  • Residents have 10 working days from Jan. 24, 2014 to comment.
  • PSB ruled the Shelburne Planning Commission letter was insufficient for an intervention.
  • Residents feel the PSB has not given substantial deference to the Town Plan and request the Selectboard appeal to the PSB.
  • The town should enforce the Town Plan so it’s taken seriously by the PSB.
  • Residents do not feel due diligence was done on the part of VTel.

Pierce explained that the Commission’s letter was insufficient because the statute is unclear, as it pre-empts local regulations, but said the regulations can be used as part of the town’s argument. The tower is proposed in a district where the use is not allowed, and VTel did not look at alternate locations very seriously unless the location was favorable to them.

Brian Precourt noted the Planning Commission was informed by a resident that a balloon test was done by a telecommunications company for a tower on Bishop Road.

Selectboard Gary von Stange noted there are state statutes over which the Selectboard has no control. The town could try to submit a Motion for Reconsideration of the PSB decision against town intervention – but the PSB may deny the right for reconsideration.

Following the lengthy discussion, the consensus of the Selectboard is to authorize the Town Manager to talk to the Town Attorney on how to meet the window of opportunity.

Chair Pudvar reported the first round of interviews for the Town Manager’s position will be completed by Jan. 29. After its completion, the search committee will decide if there will be a second round of interviews or whether they will only interview the final one or two candidates.

The public hearing on amendments to the Town Plan was re-opened. Dean Pierce reviewed changes suggested at the last meeting that have been incorporated into the Plan. Commissioner Hogan contended that the Plan was “not ready for prime time reading.” She suggested a review of the entire document by an editor to avoid misunderstanding and confusion and ensure consistency and clarity.

Brian Precourt commented the Planning Commission and staff has been working on the plan for years and it has therefore been carefully vetted. Dick Elkins disagreed, adding that significant changes were made by the Selectboard.

The Selectboard approved a motion to close the public hearing on amendments to the Town Plan followed by a unanimously approved motion to set public hearings regarding amendments to the Plan on Feb. 20 and 25.

The bridge to somewhere
Bohne reported that the town was alerted to a suspension bridge built on town property that crossed the LaPlatte River. Many residents, especially children walking to school, use the bridge. After consulting the town’s insurance carrier, the town was advised that protocols, such as an annual inspection and certification by a structural engineer, should be put in place, but otherwise they were not worried about town liability. In addition to safety, inspection and maintenance of the wooden structure should be considered.

Resident Anna Palmer, member of the ad hoc bridge committee and part of the neighborhood group that built the bridge, noted that resident Joplin James inspects the bridge daily. The group already agreed to maintain the wood planks and facilitate inspections. Resident Reiss Harris, the engineer who strung the cables and engineered the bridge, is also responsible for the natural trails in the area. Palmer acknowledged that although building the bridge did not follow procedure in terms of permits, the Selectboard is asked to consider a way to make the bridge permissible, perhaps through a lease to the bridge committee.

During the lengthy discussion, Bohne reiterated that the bridge is on town property and therefore the town’s responsibility. Gobeille concurred, “The town does not have the ability to be arbitrary. If the town wants a bridge, then the town should fund it and build it properly. When the first child is hurt, the question will be who let my child use that bridge,” he noted.
The issue of ADA compliancy came up throughout the discussion and it was decided that it would be unnecessary to conform the bridge for the physically-challenged. As Bohne stated, “There are facilities in town that are not ADA compliant.”

Von Stange proposed that the Board work with the informal bridge committee to determine if there is a way for the bridge to remain, suggesting a cost/benefit analysis to see if the bridge could meet recommended safety standards.

In the end, the Selectboard agreed to empower staff to work with the bridge committee regarding the bridge.

In other business, the Selectboard:

  • Adopted the 2013 road and bridge standards as presented and
  • Authorized the Selectboard Chair to sign the agreement with the State of Vermont for the Microsolve CAMA yearly fee of $238.81.

 

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