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Waitsfield residents encouraged to attend public hearing

11/29/2007

By Karl Klein

On Tuesday, December 4, the Waitsfield Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to consider whether the town should adopt new subdivision regulations to replace the subdivision regulations that were first adopted nearly 20 years ago.

A version of the proposed regulations was rejected by town voters on October 23. I believe that the relatively small voter turnout for that special vote warrants more discussion and an opportunity for voters to reconsider that decision next March.
 
At the same time, I cannot discount the concerns of the 110 citizens who voted against the proposed regulations. In response to several concerns expressed by town residents, the planning commission has made several revisions to the proposed regulations. The planning commission will consider additional changes based on public input received at its December 4 hearing, especially regarding the two issues that were the focus of much attention leading up to the October 23 vote.
 
One issue relates to the extent to which the proposed regulations require road and trail connectivity between residential subdivisions. This was an important issue, in part, because of recent concerns raised regarding possible road connections between two major subdivisions. It is important to understand that these concerns were raised under the existing (1989) subdivision regulations, which include the following criterion:

" ...Wherever extensions of proposed roads could rationally provide public access to adjacent properties or connection to existing public state or town highways, a right of way across the subdivider's property may be required."

Although this is a fairly common requirement in Vermont, it does not provide landowners or the Development Review Board with much direction.

The proposed regulations attempt to provide guidance to the Development Review Board as to the circumstances under which connectivity between subdivisions is justified by including these considerations:
 
"Coordination with Adjoining Properties. The arrangement of roads in the subdivision should provide for the continuation of roads of adjoining subdivisions, and for the extension of roads to connect with adjoining properties which are not yet subdivided, in order to accommodate emergency response vehicle access, facilitate the efficient movement of traffic, achieve the policies of the Waitsfield Town Plan regarding the establishment of connector roads, and ensure the orderly extension of utilities and public services. If the Development Review Board determines that topographic or other conditions make the extension of roads to adjacent parcels undesirable or impracticable, this condition may be modified."  

These proposed regulations are intended to be less rigid while still encouraging subdivision design that allows future road connections. They do not circumvent the legal role of the select board nor do they lay out new public roads, or require that landowner's deed property to the Town. This may have been misunderstood prior to the October 23 special vote.
 
Another misunderstanding that received much attention was the extent to which the proposed regulations restrict a landowner from developing on prime agricultural land. Please note that this pertains only to land which is being subdivided. Again, the current regulations include a broad standard related to the protection of prime agricultural land, while the proposed regulations provide for a more flexible approach to designing subdivisions to avoid undue and adverse impacts on farmland. The regulations will enable the Development Review Board to work with the landowner to ensure the highest and best use of the land and its natural resources. Additionally, in an effort to promote affordable housing, this prime agricultural land protection standard may be waived for clustered "planned developments."

I can't over-emphasize the importance of community input when preparing regulations that will be a positive step forward for the Town of Waitsfield. It is the goal of this meeting to listen to suggestions and determine if they can be addressed in time to vote on a revised proposal at March Town Meeting. I hope to see and hear from many of my neighbors at the public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, December 4, at the Town Office.

Klein is the chair of the Waitsfield Planning Commission.
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