By Carol Casey
At its meeting on July 17, the Development Review Board (DRB) heard from David Palmer who was appealing a notice of violation for operating a firewood production and wood processing operation on his property at 331 Shelburne-Hinesburg Road. Palmer expressed surprise at the violation notice. In a letter to town officials, Palmer wrote “wood harvesting has been part of our farm operation for well over 100 years…. My brother-in-law has been participating in our family cutting wood on the property since at least 1998…. The neighbors [sic] concern became apparent in January of 2012, which was approx. [sic] five years after they moved to the property…. Once we were notified by the neighbor of the concern of the noise, my brother-in-law adjusted his hours of operation and purchased a new wood cutting machine that has a muffler system designed to reduce the noise to a level of a lawn mower and is manufactured to be in compliance with noise ordinances…. We feel since the wood cutting has been in existence at the same location for the past 15 years as part of the farming culture and we are in alignment with the towns [sic] purpose.” Speaking before the DRB, Palmer described his brother-in-law, Mike Rivers, as a “hardworking Vermonter trying to earn a living.”
Mark Sammut, the DRB Chair, reminded Palmer that the violation was not about the noise level but rather whether the wood processing operation constituted a change of use or new use without a permit. Questions to be resolved by the DRB include whether the operation had been in existence for more than 15 years, thus falling outside the statute of limitations, and whether wood processing meets the definition of agricultural use.
Palmer’s neighbor, Ken McAvey, argued that since more than half of the wood being processed is delivered from off-site, the processing should be considered manufacturing rather than agricultural use, and that since the operation had expanded significantly in the last five years, the 15 year statute of limitations would not apply. Even if the DRB found that it met the definition of agricultural use, the stipulation that there be no adverse impact on the use and enjoyment of neighboring properties would come into play because the noise from the operation does cause such an adverse impact. McAvey recommended that the site of the wood processing be relocated on the Palmer property and be required to meet town noise standards.
After additional discussion, the DRB decided to continue the hearing until its Aug. 21 meeting, asking Palmer to provide documentation of how long the wood processing operation has existed. In the meantime, the DRB will seek clarification of the law regarding permissible agricultural use. Sammut encouraged Palmer and McAvey to see if they can reach an agreement about the location of the operation but noted that the DRB would also have to rule on the legal issues in any case.
The DRB also continued consideration of an application for a variance requested by Mark Hall on behalf of his client, Andrew Richardson, for a garage constructed within the required setback at 107 Maple Leaf Lane. Hall argued that Richardson had obtained a permit for construction of the garage based upon the Town’s tax map which showed that the garage would be within the 15-foot side yard setback. Once the garage was constructed, a neighbor, Mr. Shannon Blake, disputed the property boundary line. A subsequent survey found that the tax map line was incorrect and approximately four feet of the garage is in the setback. Hall stated that Richardson had acted in good faith and that the permit had not been disputed at the time it was issued. Blake contended that Richardson did know that the boundary line was in question prior to the construction and should have had the property surveyed in advance. The DRB continued the matter until its Aug. 21 meeting, asking Hall to provide legal precedents for granting a variance in such a case.
The DRB did approve:
A Design Review Application by Lucien and Claire Hebert for the replacement of an existing deck and sidewalk at 541 Falls Road.
A Design Review Application by Laura Cawley for removing an cinder block chimney and repairing the siding on her home at 801 Falls Road.
A Sketch Plan Application by Christophe and Alice Lissarague to re-subdivide two lots located off Thompson Road into five residential lots. The DRB classified this as a major subdivision and authorized the applicants to prepare a Preliminary Plan Application.
Sammut had opened the meeting by noting that we have “tragically lost our chairman. I would like to personally express my sympathies to his wife, family, and colleagues. David Conard’s contributions to the Board over the last several years has been extraordinary and he will be sorely missed by the Board and me personally.” He then asked for a moment of silence in Conard’s memory.
The next meeting of the DRB will be held on Wednesday, Aug.21 at 7 pm in the Municipal Center.