Friday November 9, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

SHAFTSBURY -- After having three longtime members resign within two months, talk of the Development Review Board shrinking from seven member seats to five has resumed, with board members agreeing Wednesday to recommend to the Select Board that the DRB be changed to a five member board with two alternates.

On Monday, the Select Board received resignation letters from former DRB Chairman Gary Burgess, and former DRB Vice Chairwoman Fritz Ludwig. Their terms had been set to expire in 2014. On Sept. 17, it received the resignation letter of DRB member Robert Holmes. That left the board with four members and one alternate.

Rancorous public meetings

In his letter, Holmes cited rancorous public meetings that have occurred over the past year and a half and said it was affecting his health. Ludwig did not state a reason for his resignation, while Burgess wrote: "It with sadness that it has come to the point where I must step down from the Development Review Board. The past year has been very trying and stressful and I feel the need to remove myself from the position."

He thanked the Select Board for his 15-plus years on the DRB.

Burgess has not returned calls seeking comment, and attempts to reach Holmes and Ludwig have not been successful.

At the DRB’s Wednesday meeting, Megan Donkers was elected chairwoman and Christopher Ponessi was elected vice chairman. Ponessi had told the Select Board on Monday that the DRB would talk about its size and return a recommendation for the Select Board’s next meeting.

After accepting the resignations on Monday, the Select Board talked about possibly changing the makeup of the DRB. Chairman Lon McClintock said that unlike other boards, for a measure to pass through the DRB, a majority of total members need to vote "yes," not just a majority of those present. He said that with a seven-member board running with three people and an alternate, a unanimous vote would be needed, and there could be quorum issues given the day jobs of some members, or they could have to recuse themselves on certain applications.

At Wednesday’s DRB meeting, Ponessi and DRB member David Mance had to recuse themselves on different matters as they were involved in the applications as professional planners.

McClintock suggested the DRB would work well by adopting the Act 250 District Environmental Commission’s model, which has three members and four alternates. He said this takes pressure off members and allows alternates to step in when there’s a conflict of interest while getting training. McClintock himself is an alternate on the District 8 Environmental Commission.

Ponessi said that at both meetings there is a benefit to having more members, but on Wednesday said he would understand changing if the positions went unfilled for a long period. He said that while he has not seen a full board in his time on it, he did not feel recusals have been a big issue.

DRB member Tom Huncharek said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns recommends a five-member board with a high number of alternates. Mance said he was fine with having more members, provided they participated, but that having five members makes it easier for a quorum.

Alternate Jennifer Viereck said she favored a seven member board, but spoke as a member of the public, owing to Huncharek’s objection to her participation in the discussion. He said alternates are only used when needed for input on a permit. He also opposed recommending the Select Board appoint her a full member along with shrinking the board, saying he didn’t want to lock the Select Board into that level of decision making.

Kathleen Geneslaw, a resident, also agreed the DRB should be five members with two or more alternates.