Pownal board hears feedback on proposed junk ordinance
POWNAL — Equal parts concern and support were on display Thursday at a special meeting of the Select Board, as board members heard feedback on a proposed junk ordinance regulating salvage yards, waste disposal and junk and junk vehicles.
The one-hour public meeting at the Pownal Valley Firehouse to hear public comment on the proposed ordinance had about nine attendees, offering their thoughts in a back-and-forth discussion with board members. Four of the five board members attended the meeting, with Marlena Pellon absent.
One man shared his frustration with his property, which he rents.
It's so expensive to get rid of stuff, he said.
"Actually it isn't your property," said Jim Winchester, who also attended. "You're a renter. You're in a different circumstance. You don't own that property."
"But it's still a s---hole," the man said. "I've got so much stuff; I'm overwhelmed."
The board has considered a possible junk ordinance in recent weeks, with the assistance of Town Administrator Michael Walker. Walker drafted the junk ordinance considered at Thursday's meeting, considering the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and other towns' ordinances.
The draft ordinance, which was posted online prior to the meeting forbids placing, disposing, discarding or abandoning junk or junk vehicles anywhere where they are visible from the main traveled way of a highway or abutting property owner's land.
Multiple attendees discussed specific items that could be classified as "junk," including things like tires and a construction trailer "that's just settled in the dirt," one woman said.
"I think we could do a better job of defining what junk is, and actually list specific examples," said Chairman Bryan Harris.
Like the current zoning bylaws, the ordinance specifically defines "junk" — old or scrap copper, brass, iron, steel and other old or scrap material, including things like rope, rags, batteries, glass, waste, trash and wrecked motor vehicle or parts.
This definition is nearly identical to the one in the town's zoning bylaws.
Discussion also largely centered on the junk vehicle elements of the ordinance, with two people voicing specific concerns about its reach.
"What if you're restoring a car, and it's not registered?" asked one man. "That's our hobby. We love taking an old tractor and [an] old car, and fixing it up."
Harris said he knows people who rely on a junk car to keep one car running, or who do demolition derbies.
Another man echoed similar concerns.
"If I have a parts vehicle, I'm supposed to register it?" he said. "That doesn't make sense."
Harris told the man he's been there — having to buy a junk vehicle for parts.
"That kept my main vehicle running for years," he said.
"We're all nervous over here," the man said.
Board members encouraged him to voice his concerns.
"I understand that," replied board member Elizabeth Rowe. "We want to hear you. This isn't set in stone."
The proposed ordinance also retains nearly the same definition of a junk motor vehicle, defined as a discarded, dismantled, wrecked, scrapped or ruined vehicle or parts, other than an on-premises utility vehicle, that is allowed to remain unregistered or uninspected for a period of 30 days from the date of discovery.
The ordinance would require all outdoor storage of junk and junk vehicles to be screened from public view by a fence in good repair, or vegetation.
The ordinance also provides specific enforcement for screening requirements and abandoned motor vehicles.
Upon receiving written notice, the owner of any junk, junk motor vehicle or abandoned motor vehicle discovered to be in violation of the ordinance would have to remove it or screen it from view of the "main traveled way" of the highway.
If the owner does not do so within 30 days from the mailing of the written notice, the enforcement officer may notify "appropriate state agencies" according to the ordinance.
Law enforcement would also be authorized to remove or cause the removal of an abandoned vehicle from public property, or private property based on a complaint from the owner or agent.
Property owners or agents could also remove an abandoned vehicle; if they remove the vehicle, they would have to immediately notify the Vermont State Police.
In response to a question about enforcement, Harris said that landowners would be responsible for violations, not renters on the property. Enforcement would fall under the zoning administrator.
Discussion also turned to abandoned properties, which are not addressed in the ordinance.
"We have valuable properties," said Winchester. "If we're going to be a bedroom community, we have to attract ourselves."
Harris said he has a neighboring property that affects his property value.
"It's a danger," he said. "I have to make sure my kids stay away from it."
Meeting attendees also said they were concerned about the proposed ordinance as it applies to farms.
According to the proposal, operating farms are excluded from the ordinance, with the requirement that all tractors, combines and heavy equipment, including backhoes, graders and bulldozers, be no less than 150 feet from the roadway, and clear of "noxious weeds and vegetation."
"What if the tractor breaks down and it's stuck in the weeds [and you] can't make enough money to buy the parts?" one man asked.
"I understand, but how strict is this going to be?" another man asked.
Harris said they could possibly add a better definition of farms. The draft ordinance does not define what qualifies as a farm.
"So, exceptions for farm equipment — okay,'" Harris said. "I like that idea."
Harris kept track of attendees' suggestions throughout the meeting.
When reached Friday, Walker said he had received telephone calls before Thursday's meeting from people who were concerned about the ordinance's applicability to farms.
"The last thing we want to do is be restrictive and onerous to farms," he said. "That's our lifeblood. They've got all kinds of equipment they park, they use. It's a farm. There's stuff, as opposed to a single-family home. It's apples and oranges."
He said he anticipates the current language in the draft ordinance concerning farms will change.
Board member Bob Jarvis repeatedly stressed at the meeting that the ordinance is only a draft.
"I'm going to take a much more liberty-minded approach," he said. "I do have a problem identifying anyone's property as junk."
He also suggested, in response to a question from Harris, the town create a separate hazardous waste ordinance, which is addressed in the draft ordinance.
The draft forbids hazardous waste disposal except in an approved or certified facility, and also forbids dumping of solid waste on any public or private property or in waters in the town, with limited exceptions.
The ordinance would also require salvage yards to be screened from public view.
Walker, town administrator, said drafting the ordinance was one of the projects he was given when was hired in July 2018. A previous iteration of the board was in place at the time.
That board had a list of ongoing projects, "which morphed into my to-do list," he said.
Currently, junk, junk vehicles and solid waste are covered under Section 8 of the town's zoning bylaws.
Section 8.9.2, "Place for Accumulation and Storage of materials," prohibits "junk or inoperable" motor vehicles without valid registration and/or inspection from being stored on any lot, except by a licensed and permitted dealership or repair business, in excess of 30 days where visible from a state or town highway.
It also requires scrap or waste material stored at a solid waste disposal area or within a building or outside to be "fully concealed" from view.
Although the definitions of junk and junk vehicles remain nearly the same in this ordinance as compared to current regulations, this draft ordinance isn't the same.
"If you look at Section 8 of the zoning bylaws, I don't think it even takes up half a page," Walker said. "This document is much more specific and detailed."
The draft ordinance has seven full pages.
The proposed ordinance also defines specific penalties. It authorizes the enforcement officer to recover civil penalties for each violation of the ordinance: $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, $400 for a third offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
Those amounts represent full penalty; each also has a reduced "waiver penalty."
The ordinance is not clear what constitutes a "waiver penalty."
A separate enforcement section in the proposal also would allow the town to use procedures set forth in state law to issue a solid waste order to enforce any of the provisions of the ordinance not including salvage yard or screening requirements. The order could include civil penalties for each violation.
After the meeting, Harris confirmed the board plans to hold another meeting on the proposed draft ordinance in about 30 days.
According to the proposed ordinance, it will become effective 60 days after adoption by the Select Board, or "at such time" following the expiration of the 60 days from the date of its adoption, as determined by the town.
Walker said the issue of junk isn't cut-and-dried. He said he asks people to get rid of their trash on the basis of health complaints, to hear that they're on Social Security, and they simply can't afford to.
"It's not just — here's the ordinance, let's go, we're going to find you," he said when reached Friday.
But, he said, the bottom line is — you wouldn't reasonably expect someone to settle or buy land next to a home that has "a bunch of refuse" on it.
"At least I wouldn't," he said.
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
Current Applicable Bylaw Regulations
-About one page total
-Forbids junk or inoperable motor vehicles to be stored on any lot, except by a licensed and permitted dealership and repair business, for a period in excess of 30 days, where it is visible from a state or town highway
-Requires such vehicles to be concealed within a building or by fencing
-Doesn't address salvage yards
-Doesn't specifically address removal of abandoned vehicles by law enforcement
-Seven full pages
-Requires outdoor storage of junk and junk vehicles to be screened from public view by a fence or vegetation of specific height
-Forbids keeping junk or abandoned vehicles where visible from the main traveled way of a highway or an abutting property owner's land
-Regulates salvage yards
-Authorizes law enforcement officers to remove abandoned motor vehicles from public property or private property, based on complaint from the owner or agent of the property.
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