SHAFTSBURY -- The Shaftsbury Select Board has finished revising the new version of the town plan, and is now required to hold a public hearing to review the plan before it can be officially adopted.
The select board is no doubt hoping that that hearing, tentatively scheduled for Monday, Aug. 25, will be one of the final steps in what has been a long road to getting the plan officially adopted. The board held two public hearings after receiving the planning commission's revised version of the plan, one on May 13 and the second on June 10, but afterward agreed to leave the hearing open while they discussed among each other and the public and made further changes.
Even Monday's final vote was not with some controversy, as the select board decided to remove the zoning change, approved by the planning commission, that would have changed the designation of some RR-40 properties surrounding the village center to VR2, a new designation. The only practical difference between the two designations was that the minimum plot size was reduced from one acre to half an acre. In the village center, which is zoned as VR1, the minimum lot size is a quarter of an acre. Planning commission chairman Chris Williams, who had been invited to the meeting by select board chairman Tim Scoggins, said this change was designed to encourage growth around the village center.
"It's a basic principle of smart growth that you build around your infrastructure," said Williams, "Nobody can remember when the last house was built in the village center." Williams said that he and then-select board chairman Craig Bruder had rode around the surveyed all of the lots in question personally and found that several parcels of land around the center of the village were undeveloped but not for sale. Williams said that by reducing the minimum lot size, land owners might be encouraged to sell portions of their property, which would promote growth.
"It affords the village a chance to grow, which as it currently stands, it can't," said Williams, "It would relieve developmental burden on the rural areas. This is a long-term project. We're talking about a vision of Shaftsbury way down the road." Williams added that lots that are not connected to the town sewer system would remain at a one-acre minimum, as septic systems are not viable on less than an acre of land.
"It makes a lot of sense, and smart growth makes a lot of sense," said board member Mitch Race, "It's up to the owners. Just by changing it in the town plan does not force any owner to subdivide or sell land. It's just an option, and options are key."
Several community members in the audience expressed concern that additional houses would put too much strain on the town water system. Scoggins said that he had heard that North Bennington had no water available to sell to Shaftsbury, while Williams said he had been told they had enough for 20-30 more houses.
"I agree with that in principle," said Scoggins, referring to the smart growth principles espoused by Williams and Race, "but I don't think we have much infrastructure to build around." Noting the public opposition to the zoning change, Scoggins said, "It's not a fight we need to take on right now."
Race made a motion to re-include the VR2 zoning designation, but the motion did not receive a second and did not come to a vote. Williams expressed disappointment that the select board had essentially thrown five years of work and research by the planning commission away. "Obviously, what we were working on was wrong," he said, asking the select board to communicate more clearly its expectations to the select board to avoid something like this happening in the future.
"I just think its one of those cases where if you build it they will come, but we haven't built it yet," said Scoggins.
Board member Tony Krulikowski thanked Williams for starting the conversation about the future of the village of Shaftsbury, which he said most people don't have time to think about in their day-to-day lives. He indicated that he believed this would be a good change to make further down the road, and that these were important conversations to have. "Your efforts have not gone for naught," he told Williams.
Monday's meeting also marked the first select board meeting for new town administrator David Kiernan, who replaced Margy Becker, who resigned from the position last month. "I'd like to thank David for hitting the ground running," said Scoggins, "We hired him on the 21st, he met with Margy on the 22nd, and he was on his own on the 23rd, and as far as I can tell he hasn't missed a beat." Kiernan said that he and Becker have been speaking over email every time a question comes up, and that she had been very helpful in the transition.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB