Shelburne citizens oppose O’Brien project in Town rural district

Shelburne Citizens for Responsible Growth (SCRG) opposes the current proposal by the O’Brien Agency to rezone their 190-acre rural parcel bounded by Irish Hill/Thomas Roads and Spear Street as well as to extend municipal sewer service outside of the designated served area of the town for the following reasons:

Conflict with Town Plan

We are currently observing the request of a single developer to receive consideration for a project in direct opposition with the land-use policies for planning and growth management stipulated in our town plan—goals which are supported by zoning bylaws and ordinances. “It is the Town’s policy to discourage development in the rural area in favor of development in the Growth Area…” (Town Plan, vol 1. page 17). The Zoning Bylaws concerning the rural district already state: “Land in this district will not be served by public sewer.”

The Town Plan is a visionary document that governs the negotiated and accepted principles of development in Shelburne. The orderly development process established by the adoption of the sewer ordinance and related zoning changes in 2001 should be followed. Any contemplated change must be driven by community needs, not by an individual developer’s desires and any conflict must be resolved in a forum where extended public interests can be addressed.

Town Benefits and Spot Zoning

In what ways does the town benefit from this proposal? Although O’Brien COO Larry Michaels asserts the exact number of housing units to be built is “yet to be determined,” according to the Shelburne Town Planning office, with residential zoning and access to public sewer, the Thomas Farm land can support 144 to over 200 new residences. Unlike the other O’Brien rurally zoned developments, this plan permits the single most dense development in the history of Shelburne. It is questionable that the resulting property tax revenue it generates will offset the cost of town services. And the proposed “gift” of 65 acres of conserved land south of Thomas Road is largely unbuildable due to wetlands and access issues through Charlotte and its proximity to a shooting range. It is likely that the town will acquire access or title to this land anyway under current zoning. Not only does it appear that the town receives little to no benefit if it engages this proposal, but it also appears that the proposal fully conforms to a definition of “spot zoning” wherein the developer benefits at the expense of the taxpaying residents.

Fiscal Impact on Community

Increased residential development leads to higher property taxes for everybody. Along with the development come increased demands on our school system, further need for infrastructure improvements, (roads, sidewalks, and traffic) and a rise in requirements for municipal services including fire, police, and rescue.  They all cost more than the tax base and impact fees bring in. Furthermore, the O’Brien development would consume a significant percentage of the remaining unallocated capacity of the Town’s sewer treatment facility number 2. If this resource is redirected to provide sewer for a PUD in a rural area now, Shelburne citizens may well need to pay for a new 11 million dollar sewer plant in the future, to serve the residential residents for which sewer was originally intended.

Not Smart Growth

This proposal is not Smart growth. There is no access to mass-transit. It is not near our schools and there are no jobs close by. It is 1 1/4 miles from the proposed development site into the village center – too far for anyone to walk on a daily basis. There are currently no sidewalks or paths to make it safe for existing residents to navigate the road and LaPlatte bridge by foot or bicycle. This development would add 145-200 families driving, not walking our roads, which translates to an estimated 1,000 trips per day into town and a lot more traffic seeking entry to Route 7. The surrounding road structure is already at capacity due to the number of Vermont and New York commuters using the Irish Hill-Spear Street corridors to access Burlington and the interstate. The town needs to address the traffic issues that already exist at the 4-way intersection of Falls/Harbor road and Route 7 intersection before exacerbating the existing problem with additional high density housing projects.

Rural Nature of Community

Shelburne residents moved here for a reason—quality of life and rural areas.

If the planning commission allows individuals in the rural area to “hook-up” simply because they are abutting the existing sewer line that was established to concentrate growth in the residential area, development will keep creeping outwards into the rural and agricultural districts and the character of Shelburne will be lost forever.

2011 O’Brien Proposal

As recently as two years ago, Stephanie O’Brien presented the same development proposal for the same 190-acre rural parcel to the Planning Commission requesting an extension of the sewer service area. This petition resulted in a recommendation by commissioners Sam Chauncey and Tucker Holland to the Selectboard on March 10, 2011 that the sewer service system not be expanded until and unless a comprehensive study is undertaken to understand the total implications to the town of expanding the system.

“This study should determine that:

there is overall need outside of a single developer’s request

there is the best possible understanding of the impact on density and rural development

there is a careful estimate of the long-term cost to the town to expand the service area

there is solid reasoning to expand and why the existing capacity is not being fully  utilized.”

To date, nothing has changed. No further analysis has been done. The only difference is that there are now new Selectboard and Planning Commission members who should continue to defend and protect the well-defined review process currently in place that has served the town well for more than a dozen years.

Shelburne Citizens for Responsible Growth Board

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