O’Brien Brothers Agency proposes neighborhood development in Shelburne Falls area

By Carol Casey

Part of the Planning Commission’s meeting on April 11 was devoted to a presentation by Larry Michaels of the O’Brien Brothers Agency and their consultant from ORW Landscape Architecture.  The O’Briens have asked for sewer service connectivity for their proposed development bordering Irish Hill and Thomas Roads across from River Crest, and a change in the zoning regulations to allow for denser development.  In return, they intend to designate some 100 acres as farmland and open space conservation areas.  They showed preliminary plans for a clustered development of 80 to 100 homes of varying size and styles that would create a walkable neighborhood, contrasted by a view of what a similar size development of five-acre lot properties would look like. Their property is located in an area currently zoned as rural which by definition prohibits linkage to the town’s sewer system. Their proposal, although still in the planning stages, was graphically depicted to inform Planning Commission members about their intentions prior to the Commission’s action on their request.  Commission Chair Brian Precourt asked Town Planner Dean Pierce to analyze the impact of rezoning that land parcel as either residential or part of the mixed use Shelburne Falls district.  Commissioner Kate Lalley suggested that a third option of an overlay form-based code PUD be considered as well.  A resident of River Crest spoke in favor of the O’Brien plan, noting that it would offer good choices for people in different phases of their lives and that the Commission should be open to a balance of density in the area, such as the proposed dense cluster of homes with open space all around.  However, Gwen Webster cautioned against opening Pandora’s Box by acceding to developers’ requests, and urged the Commission to review the Town Plan before making a decision. Commissioners Lalley and Ron Bouchard were generally in favor of the O’Brien plans, while Commissioner Dick Elkins was opposed. Precourt stressed that requesting an analysis was not an endorsement of the plan but rather a tool to guide further discussion.

Earlier in the meeting, the Commission again discussed the question of whether and where to expand the sewer service area boundaries. Both Commissioners Burks and Elkins suggested that the question be referred back to the Selectboard without any recommendation because only the Selectboard has the authority to make changes. Both are concerned that expanding the sewer service area will increase density which would be undesirable in rural areas that ought to be preserved, an opinion shared by Bouchard. Lalley commented that expansion of the sewer service area could be accompanied by more stringent limitations on design of the development to ensure that the results matched the intention of the Town Plan. The discussion will continue at future Commission meetings.

The Commission next turned to a proposal to allow lateral movement of non-conforming structures in the lakeshore overlay district.  After some discussion, Commission members were in agreement that lateral movement would be allowed provided that the structure was not moved any closer to the lakeshore, the footprint was not enlarged, it met current side yard setback requirements, and that the lakeshore wall was not expanded. Elkins suggested that another condition be set that it not intrude into a neighbor’s viewscape.  Pierce was charged with developing specific amendments to the existing regulation to achieve these purposes for consideration at the Commission’s next meeting.

The Commission noted that comments on the revised Town Plan had been received from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and asked Pierce to incorporate those comments into the proposed revised plan for consideration during the public hearing on the revised Town Plan.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission will be held on Thursday, April 25 at 7 pm in the Municipal Center. The agenda will include the public hearing on the revised Town Plan, discussion of amendments to the definition of “developable area,” review of the proposed amendment allowing for lateral movement in the lakeshore overlay district, and continued discussion of the sewer service area boundaries.

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