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Waitsfield DRB urges voters to approve regulations

10/11/2007

By Waitsfield Development Review Board

On Tuesday, October 23, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Waitsfield voters will decide whether to adopt newly revised subdivision regulations.  As the group of volunteers responsible for interpreting and fairly administering these regulations, we urge residents to vote in favor of their adoption.

This past March, the Town of Waitsfield restructured how land use and development regulations are administered when a Development Review Board was appointed to replace the Board of Adjustment. This shifted responsibility for reviewing proposed subdivisions -- which had been the job of the Planning Commission since subdivision regulations were first adopted in 1988 -- to the DRB, leaving the PC with more time to address the Town's long-range planning needs.

At the same time the DRB was formed, the Select Board was in the process of considering the first significant revisions to the Town's subdivision regulations in nearly 20 years. State statute required the DRB to apply both the current and proposed regulations at the same time until the revised regulation were either adopted or rejected by the select board. This gave the DRB direct experience applying the revised regulations and found them to be a great improvement over the previous regulations:
 
• Correct technical and statutory deficiencies. The 1988 subdivision regulations are not consistent with state statute because of changes made as part of permit reform legislation passed in 2004. The new regulations correct those legal deficiencies.

•  Streamline the review process for applicants. The new regulations allow most landowners wanting to adjust a boundary line between existing lots to receive administrative approval from the Zoning Administrator, rather than from the Board after a public hearing. In addition, an informal sketch plan review process ensures that landowners receive feedback on their proposal before spending money on surveyors or engineers. The 1988 subdivision regulations also require applicants to receive all other required state permits before getting local approval, which is not the case under the new regulations.
 
•  Eliminate and clarify overly vague standards. The 1988 regulations leave much room for interpretation -- and therefore discretion and disagreement -- on the part of the Board and landowners. The new regulations provide greater clarity that should avoid conflict over how the standards should be interpreted.

•  Improve coordination with state permits. The 1988 regulations require the Board to conduct independent review to ensure compliance with certain requirements, such as stormwater and erosion control measures, even though the technology for addressing those issues has changed dramatically since the 1980s, and regardless of whether a state agency will be reviewing the project for the same purpose.  The new regulations dovetail with state regulatory processes and avoid redundancies where possible.

•  Provide greater flexibility for the Board and landowners. The new regulations provide specific discretion to allow the Board to waive or modify various requirements -- such as road construction standards -- based on site conditions; the proposed scope of the project; and likely impacts of the subdivision. This allows the Board to ensure that new subdivisions meet basic performance standards rather than burdening landowners with a one-size-fits-all regulation.

•  Strengthen standards to protect natural resources, including productive farmland and wildlife habitat.  In many respects, the new regulations formally authorize the protection for Waitsfield's natural resources and rural character that have been clear Town Plan policies for two decades and has been the practice of the Planning Commission despite vague and unclear standards. These natural resource protections are not intended to penalize landowners, but to guide new development in a manner that avoids or mitigates environmental impacts or diminishes our town's special character.
If the revised regulations are rejected, the 1988 regulations will remain in effect until such time as they are revised or replaced again. This will be very unfortunate in that the new regulations are a clear improvement for the Board, landowners, and local residents concerned about how growth and development may impact the town.
 
The DRB urges voters to cast your ballot in favor of the new regulations between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 23, at the Waitsfield Elementary School.
 
Waitsfield Development Review Board: Eleanor D'Aponte, Jamey Fidel, Gib Geiger, Mike Kingsbury, Brian Shupe, Mark Sinclair, Hallie Tamez.
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