Manchester business owner argues against zoning changes
MANCHESTER — A local business owner didn't get what he wanted from the Manchester Planning Commission at its meeting last week, but he lived to fight another day after the commission agreed to continue to look into his zoning request.
Andrew Tarantino, the owner of A Safe Place Self-Storage, has challenged the commission's changes to the zoning where one of his storage units is located.
Formerly, his storage unit was in an area zoned for industrial use but has been changed to Multi-Use 2, and, it's included in the Aquifer Protection Overlay district that comes with heavier restrictions to protect the aquifer.
The town documents identify 17 permitted uses within the APO, including businesses like auto repair, salvage yards, composting, underground propane storage and wastewater disposal systems, among many others.
But, self-storage is not a permitted use.
The town has offered Tarantino a conditional use permit, which would allow him to continue to operate his business as he has for the past three decades, but Tarantino said it restricts his ability to grow his business and could affect its value if he chooses to sell.
Tarantino also takes issue with a memo sent by Town Manager John O'Keefe to Janet Hurley, town Planning and Zoning director, suggesting that "warehouses and self-storage should be considered separately."
O'Keefe's contention in the memo is that self-storage, by its nature, allows people to store things that the town wouldn't want in the APO.
"Getting access to a self-storage unit, I suspect, is close to impossible without a warrant," O'Keefe wrote. "This could provide for the possibility of the location of materials in the APA that we definitely would not like. We already have one unit in the APA. I don't think that a second unit would be helpful."
Tarantino thinks O'Keefe overstepped by sending the memo, but O'Keefe said he was just doing his job and looking out for the town's best interests when he brought up an issue he believed the Planning Commission should consider.
Tarantino, who was on vacation and did not attend the commission meeting, was represented by Christian Heins, of Woodland Service Inc. Environmental Planning, and attorney James Dingley.
Heins told the commissioners that this "perceived threat" doesn't make sense in light of the fact that many of the allowed uses in the district could present more threats.
"It's our contention that self-storage is less likely to cause environmental problems than most of the items on this list," Heins said. "There is certainly no more threat than any of the other businesses. We're asking to be added to this list."
He also pointed out that Tarantino's contract renters sign gives him access to the units at any time, so if there was a problem, gaining access to the unit wouldn't require a court order.
Heins said a search at the federal Environmental Protection Agency level and state level resulted in no examples of leaks in storage units causing environmental damage.
But commission Chairman Greg Boshart presented several news accounts of self-storage units making the news after meth labs, medical waste and mercury were found in them in various locations across the country.
"It confirmed my suspicion. I have concerns about it happening," Boshart said. "I'm not going to wait until something happens and then react to it."
Heins pointed out that the town has a list of performance standards that property owners in the APO must meet to develop in the district.
"If it meets the performance standards, [self-storage] is less of a risk than most of the businesses on the list," Heins said. "It's no more of a risk if it's properly regulated."
Boshart pointed out that the commission wasn't suggesting that Tarantino's business be shut down and said there were plenty of other locations where self-storage was allowed.
"We're not shutting it down in town," Boshart said. "There are other places where they can go. He's still permitted to have his business where it is currently."
Commissioner Tina Cutler interjected that she thought the concern about some of the permitted uses in the aquifer protection overlay being riskier than self-storage was exactly right, and she wanted to take another look at all of the uses to get a better handle on what should be allowed and what shouldn't be.
"What struck me is we were allowing too many things," Cutler said. "It should be much stricter. Anything that has any risk to the aquifer should be much stricter. I think we need to tighten down, not loosen it up. We need to look at this whole section."
Tarantino did have support from one commissioner.
Leon Ward said the concern about self-storage made sense in a big city like Atlanta. But he said in Vermont, people didn't need to hide things in a storage unit, they could just go into the woods to escape watchful eyes.
He said Manchester is small, describing it as "Mayberry almost" and said the odds are not high this would happen.
"I personally don't feel someone would resort to that," Ward said. "I feel like if we were to allow this, we should require he has cameras to keep an eye on what's going in and out of the building. Automotive, the golf courses, those are bigger worries to me than someone may do something. I think it's a slim chance."
In the end, Boshart said he didn't want to stop the process for all the things that everybody agreed on because of one item.
He recommended, and the commission agreed, to keep moving forward with the town's zoning plans but hold this issue out for more study.
He also took exception to an opinion piece Tarantino published in the Manchester Journal in which he accused the town of trying to shut his business down.
Boshart called it unfair and untrue.
"The planning commission does support small business," Boshart said. "To imply, or say, we want to shut down small business is unfair and untrue."
Contact Darren Marcy at email@example.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.
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