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Do people with riparian property have a responsibility to protect those who live downstream? That's the question that the Warren Select Board grappled with this week.
On Tuesday, August 27, the Warren Select Board considered adopting a Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District that would revise the town's land use and development regulations.
The district, which was drawn by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), restricts future development in areas along the Mad River deemed vulnerable to erosion. "It's a geological issue, not a flood issue," Warren Planning Commission chair Craig Klofach said.
According to Friends of the Mad River director Caitrin Maloney, the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District "is necessary in addition to existing flood regulations and it addresses areas that are vulnerable to erosion as opposed to flooding," she said. "These can be different areas, so simply having flood regulations does not protect our community sufficiently."
By restricting future development, the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District is designed to protect a town's downstream neighbors from floating structures that have become dislodged due to erosion. Already, Friends of the Mad River helped the town of Waitsfield adopt an overlay district, and the Warren Planning Commission considered its ordinance when fine-tuning their own.
If Warren adopts the planning commission's proposed district ordinance, Klofach estimates that about 100 property owners will be affected. Already, those property owners have been notified about the proposal and have had the opportunity to attend a public forum.
"This eventually affects property value because you cannot build [in the district]," Klofach said, which is a topic of concern to the board.
"I have a difficult time with an individual property owner bearing the burden for the greater good," select board member Matt Groom said, explaining that some people will be losing money from their properties in order to protect others'. "It'd be different if there were a buyout program."
At the same time, however, as the environment changes, "we have to change our historic patterns," select board member Bob Ackland argued. "When do you draw the line and say, don't build anything more in this district, because it has consequences?"
While Warren Village is largely unaffected by the overlay district due to the steep stone walls that line the river, two other important areas are: Sugarbush's snowmaking pond and the Bobbin Mill.
The snowmaking pond "should not be there, technically," Klofach explained, but since it's an existing structure, if the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District were adopted the ski resort would reserve the right to rebuild the pond if it were damaged but would not be able to further develop the area.
The Bobbin Mill also falls within the overlay district, and owner Barry Simpson attended the meeting with his attorney, Sheila Ware, to argue against its inclusion.
In encouraging regulations like the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District, the ANR is interested only in environmental impact, Ware argued, while the select board must also consider the economic vitality of the town. The Bobbin Mill is "the only real industrial area in town," Ware said, and "there's absolutely no reason that this parcel couldn't be carved out so industrial use could continue."
Without the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District, Ware said, any future development would still be subject to conditional use by the Warren Development Review Board, which does take into consideration environmental impact.
And in terms of environmental impact, Ware expressed concern that the overlay district surrounding the Bobbin Mill was "unnecessarily broad," and that areas included in the district have not been flooded. "If you don't have flooding, how can you have erosion?" she said.
Indeed, "what is the science that says [the district] should be here, rather than there?" Ackland said.
In studying maps of the district in other areas, the select board also noticed that the district "seems to stop dead at Route 100," select board chair Andy Cunningham said, and that properties alongside Route 100 across from the river that would have otherwise been included in the district were not, due to this technicality.
"The Route 100 carve-out is unfair," select board member Anson Montgomery said, and the select board agreed that they did understand the reasons for discrepancies within the district.
"Having a more scientific basis would help us make a decision," select board chair Andy Cunningham said. The board agreed to postpone their decision on whether or not to adopt the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District and to invite an ANR representative to a future meeting to help further explain how overlap districts are determined.