BENNINGTON — The Bennington Select Board has voted to adopt the town plan with only minor clarifications, rather than make more substantial changes to the portion of the document that covers solar projects.
Board members had discussed more significant changes at their last meeting, notably an amendment that would have restricted facilities over 10,000 square feet. While solar facilities are regulated by the Vermont Public Service Board, the PSB has been known to look to local planning documents when crafting permit requirements. It recently denied a fairly controversial solar project near the Apple Hill neighborhood, citing elements of the existing town plan in its decision.
However, recently re-elected board Chairman Tom Jacobs said, early in the discussion, "As I've thought about this, and sought counsel from Rob Woolmington, our town counsel, I think that change is significant enough for us to consider whether or not we would want to have a further public hearing. The change may appear to some to not be substantial, but frankly, when and if this amendment is adopted, I don't want it to be subject to a challenge on a procedural basis because we didn't give full review to making a change."
Assistant Town Manager Dan Monks clarified that if the board wanted to make any significant changes to the document, it would have to re-warn two public hearings on the matter, to give the public a chance to comment on the suggested changes.
Board member Jim Carroll suggested that they adopt the plan as it had been initially submitted to the board, and then later go through the process of implementing the solar amendments. Newly elected Vice Chairman Michael Keane said that he agreed, so long as they could go back and amend the document with a more "bulletproof" solar policy later.
The board also expressed opinions on Act 46, the education law that was passed by the Legislature last year, which the town's schools boards are currently grappling with.
"This is something that I asked Stu (Hurd, town manager) to put on the agenda, so that we could have a board discussion, primarily because, while we do not have jurisdiction over the school systems at any level, it has to cause us concern, with what we have heard, seen and feel in the community," said Jacobs.
"We expect accountability from every director and administrator that oversees our school system," he said, "because it does have a direct effect on us, as taxpayers as well as responsible leaders."
"It just makes common sense to me to consolidate," said Carroll, "One concern that I have is that Pownal, and North Bennington, and other smaller school boards would be removed from the process, however, democratically, they wouldn't be removed. They would still have a voice, as board members or as parents, in the consolidation process."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.