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Waitsfield Planning Commission affirms interest in future road network

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05/03/2007

By Lisa Loomis

Despite hearing from an attorney that pursuing an easement for a future easement through a proposed subdivision could trigger more litigation, the Waitsfield Planning Commission remains committed to looking at future road networks and planning for them now.

Members of the town planning commission discussed their responsibility to look at future road networks and alternative routes and means of transportation after a subdivision hearing at a May 1 meeting. The applicants are Paul and Marie Hartshorn, who want to create a five-lot subdivision on land off Route 100, north of Waitsfield Village.

They were before the planning commission in 2005 seeking a nine-lot subdivision on the same parcel of land. That subdivision was approved and they appealed it, challenging three aspects of the approval, including a condition that they create a future easement so that their subdivision might be connected to an adjoining subdivision to the north.

Before that case was heard in Vermont Environmental Court, Lauren Kolitch, the Hartshorns' attorney and an attorney for the town, plus a town representative negotiated an agreement. Under that agreement the Hartshorns put their first appeal on hold while they applied for a different subdivision.

The permit conditions which Hartshorn appealed had to do with requiring a future easement, changing the alignment of the subdivision access road and changing the alignment of a private road that runs to/through the subdivision.

This week's hearing was the final hearing for that new subdivision.  This new subdivision does not call for creating a building lot on the land that abuts the subdivision to the north where an easement for a future path or road was granted. The new subdivision leaves 57 acres of land in a 'non-development' lot, according to Kolitch.

Planners asked the Hartshorns what they planned to do with that 57-acre parcel and whether it would be subdivided for residential development. The Hartshorns said they did not know. Planners asked Kolitch if her clients would object to a permit condition calling for a future road easement on the 57-acre parcel when that land comes back for subdivision.

She said such a condition would trigger an appeal. After planners closed the public hearing on the subdivision, commission members deliberated on the project. Given increasing traffic counts on Route 100 and earlier traffic and road network studies that identify the land on the west side of Route 100 as a possible location for future 'backroads,' the planners discussed their obligation to address the issue of securing easements now.

Commissioner Jamey Fidel said he felt this project was an improvement over the first subdivision and noted that he was still concerned about the cumulative impacts of the development.

"And how do we find a way to convey planning commission concerns to future boards that will review future proposals on Hartshorn's land?" asked Fidel.

"The zoning ordinance is still relevant in terms of our obligation on addressing the connectivity of roads whether we're dealing with a five-lot or a nine-lot subdivision," said commissioner Russ Bennett.

Planning commission chair Karl Klein reminded the commissioners that the Hartshorns' attorney indicated that any future easement condition would not be acceptable.

"I think the question for us is whether this proposal is substantially different from the first one such that those original concerns don't matter," Bennett said.

"If we approve this subdivision as proposed, the potential of a future easement is still possible," commissioner Steve Shea noted.

"I assume we'll still be signaling the same concerns to the Development Review Board that we had during our review: namely, is this level of development appropriate with the existing traffic?" commissioner Fidel said, adding, "We're talking about creating an easement where the town would later go in and make a road or path."

"But the town doesn't have a plan for a road or path," Shea said.

"But we do have a Town Plan that spells out a focus on connectivity and we did exactly this same thing on the Koeple subdivision to the north. This land is land we've identified as appropriate for hamlets of residential development and it is land where we should be looking at the capacity of existing roads plus future traffic patterns," Klein said.

"The planning commission's job is to look at the future of the town. A plan already exists to have some connectivity from that end of town to Irasville. We're talking about creating building lots, some of which will be for families with kids. The kids are going to need to ride bikes to the soccer fields or maybe to the Loop Road and the school, to the Carroll Road and Irasville," Bennett pointed out.

"But the reality of this application is that we applied these conditions before and we didn't get very far," Fidel said.

"It's the applicant who didn't get very far," commissioner Robin Morris said.

"I think the question is, do we believe a road network, and planning for it now, are important for the future of Waitsfield?" Morris asked.

"It makes sense for the planning commission to get some public input on this issue of whether it's appropriate to look at creating an alternative road network to Route 100," Fidel said.

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