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PC fast tracks subdivision regulations revision

11/08/2007

By Lisa Loomis

Waitsfield's revised subdivision regulations may come back before town voters at Town Meeting in March.

That's the plan advanced by members of the town planning commission this week. Planners, at a November 6 meeting, discussed the defeat last month of subdivision regulations in a 115 to 70 vote.

Planners crafted the new regulations over four years, to replace the town's 1987 subdivision regulations which were 'one size fits all' and outdated, according to planners. After gaining approval from the select board, a group of opponents petitioned for a town-wide vote on the regulations.

This week, planners discussed whether to leave the old regulations in place or try again to get the new regulations passed. The old regulations are stricter in terms of what types of development and subdivision are allowed and where.

To bring the regulations back to voters at Town Meeting the select board must re-approve the regulations and warn a public hearing within the next week. To facilitate that, the planning commission worked through the regulations this week, modifying them in some places and letting stand other sections which had sparked controversy.

Planning commissioner Robin Morris told fellow commissioners that if the regulations are approved by the select board it would be possible to have voters petition for the regulations to come to a town-wide vote and there would be time to warn the vote for Town Meeting.

"If we can work through these we can get them to the select board for their meeting next week. I think the issues fall into two areas: the cleaning up the regulations and the housekeeping work of getting rid of words and non-definable sections; and secondly, the 'connectivity' issue," Morris said.

"I think we need to separate the 'connectivity' issue from the rest of it," said commission chair Karl Klein.

The connectivity issue is a clause in both the old and new regulations which deals with development of roads within proposed subdivisions. Both versions give the regulatory review body, the development review board, the authority to ask that provisions be made for roads in one subdivision to connect to existing public and private roads on adjoining properties.

This week planners considered a revision of the new ordinances that removed the need to address the connectivity issue, but decided against it after considerable discussion. Their discussion centered around the need for planning to address traffic safety and circulation as well as the 'bigger picture' when looking at development.

"I think taking this provision out is undercutting any chance of ever being able to address this at this level. If we take out the connectivity clause, waiting until there is a town-wide plan for future roads, we'll never be able to have a complete plan in place ahead of time," said planner Peter Laskowski.

"Just because some people didn't like this clause the first time and won't like it next time that doesn't negate the need for proper planning and attention to safety when a major subdivision is proposed," he continued.

"I think Peter's view is fair and I think 115 people will vote against the regulations next time," Morris.

Planners had a similar discussion about a provision in the regulations regarding protection of farmland. The regulations, which failed on October 23, included a paragraph which read, "Intact parcels of productive farmland (i.e., land characterized by primary agricultural soils, a history of agricultural production, and the lack of barriers to future agricultural activity, such as past development of the parcel) should be designated as open space; conservation easements, limitations on further subdivision, or comparable site protection mechanisms may be required."

That paragraph was deleted and then put back into the version of the regulations which will go to the select board on November 12. Planner Brian Fleisher asked commissioners why they would want to do less to protect farmland and planner Laskowski concurred.

"The amount of prime ag land in the town is going down and I think we've got to consider how to preserve it," he said.

"So you want that paragraph put back in?" asked Morris.

"Well, I don't think we want to reduce the protections on prime ag land," Laskowski said.

The group made other changes to the document, including eliminating references to documentation, state sewage and water regulations and other small definitional changes.

Planners will present their revised document to the select board at that board's next meeting on November 12.

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