By Carol Casey
Several Shelburne residents turned out for the Planning Commission’s meeting on Thursday, Feb. 14 to voice their opinions on the expansion of the Sewer Service Area (SSA). The Selectboard holds the decision-making power on determining the boundaries of the SSA, but it had asked the Planning Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the issue and submit its recommendations. Town planner Dean Pierce laid out a framework for the review, noting that the approach to boundary changes could be (1) incremental; (2) strategic; or (3) scenario specific to address requests as they arose. Although this review was prompted by a specific request from O’Brien Brothers Realty for the extensions of sewer service to property they own near Irish Hill and Thomas Roads, the Commission appeared to favor the strategic approach, using SSA boundaries as a tool to promote density in designated growth areas and to avoid development in rural areas. When sewer service is not available, sufficient land must be identified to allow for septic tank systems, thus determining density in a development. For example, a representative of O’Brien Brothers Realty reported that without sewer service, approximately 10 single family homes could be built on the Irish Hill and Thomas Road property; with sewer service, the property could accommodate some 28 homes in a clustered development that would attract young families. Commissioner Dan Burks cited a similar impact in the Stonegate and Boulder Hills developments, where sewer service allowed construction of 18 homes in the first instance and 37 homes in the second instance; if the developments had to rely on septic systems, only a total of four homes would likely have been built.
Audience members urged the Commission to proceed cautiously and to solicit input from townspeople before making a recommendation. Some objected to changing the boundaries merely to satisfy a single developer, while others were especially concerned about a proposed development so close to the LaPlatte River which, they argued, should be conserved as a natural resource to be used for recreational purposes.
Commissioner Kate Lalley requested an overlay map depicting the current boundaries of the SSA, the planned growth areas, wildlife habitats, and scenic resources for the Commission to study as part of their review. Commissioner Toni Supple requested that forest lands and conserved areas be added to that overlay.
Both Pierce and Commission members agreed that current data indicates the sewer system is not even close to capacity, so extending the boundaries wouldn’t negatively impact the current system. Some pointed out that expanding the coverage would mean more paying customers which would reduce the overall financial burden on current sewer users.
Commission Chair Brian Precourt stated that this issue will be on the Commission’s agenda a number of times before any decisions are made, and welcomed public comment. He indicated that he would like to consider expanding sewer service farther down Mt. Philo Road to encompass the airport.
The Commission next turned its attention to a zoning change request by Automaster asking that structures within the front yard setbacks and buffers in the Mixed Use district be permitted. Automaster would like to build three permanent auto display structures within the setback on their property along Route 7. The Commission noted that any such change would impact all property owners in the district and decided to defer a decision until the Vision for 7 planning process is concluded. Pierce reported that a grant application for the Vision for 7 project will be submitted to the Regional Planning Commission by Feb. 21 and a favorable decision is expected in May.
The next meeting of the Planning Commission is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7 pm in the Town Center. The agenda will include continued discussion of the SSA boundaries and a presentation by representatives of the Regional Planning Commission on the draft Regional Plan.