NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Senior Staff Writer
BENNINGTON -- An attempt to revive debate about the zoning of a long-dormant property off of Northside Drive was squashed by a majority of the Select Board Monday.
Michael Bethel, a local resident and a strong proponent of rezoning the former Johnson Controls property, asked the board Monday to reconsider its position.
"We have a new board and I’d like to have the board maybe reconsider the Johnson Controls property changing to bring in revenue. The owner still wants to bring in business to Bennington. He can’t do it just with industrial," Bethel said.
He cited additional tax revenue from commercial development and retail jobs as reasons the board should make the switch and allow the Gladstone Development Corp. the ability to market the 18-acre parcel as commercial land.
"I just wish this board would reconsider that. You can do it under law. You can change what the other board did," Bethel said. "I think this board does have the courage to see the facts and let the man make some money for himself and the town."
The board, which has debated the issue several times over the past few years, rejected his request on a 5 to 2 vote, however, with board members Justin Corcoran and John McFadden the only two in support.
"I’m not interested in changing the zoning of that property," board member Greg Van Houten said. "I do support the policy that we put in place that if Mr. Gladstone has something realistic that he’d like to discuss, that’s fine."
The Select Board, prior to its reorganization in April, approved a new zoning policy in March. That policy allows property owners to bring development proposals to the board if a zoning change is required for the project.
Others also spoke against revisiting the issue. Thomas Jacobs, elected to the board in March, said any discussion of changing the former Johnson Controls parcel should happen when the Town Plan is updated in less than two years.
"I’m sort of tired of hearing this discussion. I’m sure we’re going to hear about it in the next two years when we look at the (town) plan, but I’d rather we look at it as a whole," Jacobs said.
Jim Carroll offered the most stinging criticism of the idea, accusing Bethel of employing questionable tactics to achieve his goal. According to Carroll, Bethel began questioning Carroll’s vendor permit, which he uses to operate a food cart on Main Street. Carroll said Bethel was looking for violations of the permit rules.
"I asked Mr. Bethel, I said, ‘What is your problem?’ And he said, ‘Change your vote on Johnson Controls and you’ll never hear from me.’ Now, this is the type of thing he has resorted to -- threats, harassment and blackmail. The people of Bennington ought to know that," Carroll said.
Bethel denied the accusation after Monday’s meeting.
Corcoran said he supported Bethel’s request because commercial development will provide a boost in property tax revenue and create jobs. However, those jobs are not ideal, he admitted.
"They’re not great jobs. Nobody is going to argue that they are, but the fact of the matter is, they exist," Corcoran said.
McFadden said studies have indicated that local residents leave the area to purchase goods that are not sold here. Additional commercial development would address that, he said.
A second motion, at Bethel’s request, to circumvent the board’s policy of requiring the signatures of 5 percent of the electorate for an advisory ballot article, also failed on a 4 to 3 vote. Bethel asked the board to place a non-bonding resolution seeking public input on whether property’s zoning designation should change.
Krawczyk joined with Corcoran and McFadden to support the advisory ballot article, but it still failed to gain majority support.
"Thank you. I’ll go get the signatures," Bethel said.
Contact Neal P. Goswami at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami