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On Tuesday, September 24, the Warren Select Board accepted minor changes to the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District proposed by the Warren Planning Commission 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," planning commission chair Craig Klofach said. 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.
About 100 property owners in Warren will be affected by the overlay district, which "eventually affects property value because you cannot build [in the district]," Klofach explained. The Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District does allow for improvements to an existing structure "that cumulatively do not increase the structural footprint by more than 500 square feet and do not decrease the structure's existing setback from the stream channel," the district terms read, however, and on Tuesday, the board accepted an amendment to that term that clarifies that that includes "rebuilding within an existing structural footprint."
Also on Tuesday, the board accepted an amendment to the district terms that includes a warning and disclaimer of liability explaining that the district was drawn up by the ANR based on the "best available scientific data" as well as an overall scientific analysis performed at the river's edge. "In the event that an individual property owner presents engineering evidence of bedrock not visible from the river's edge ... the property owner may request further review of the limits as defined by this overlay district."
Already, the board heard a request for a district carve-out at the site of the Bobbin Mill from its owner, Barry Simpson, and his attorney, Sheila Ware, at two previous meetings, and on Tuesday it accepted a carve-out for the top portion of the mill.
Following a site visit to the Bobbin Mill on September 10, ANR river scientist Gretchen Alexander confirmed that "there is some bedrock, but the indicators ... of a static river are just not there," she said, but Simpson and Ware countered that historically the Bobbin Mill has not flooded.
If you don't have flooding, how can you have erosion?" Ware said.
In encouraging regulations like the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District, the ANR is interested only in environmental impact, Ware said, while the select board must also consider the economic vitality of the town. The Bobbin Mill is "the only real industrial area in town," she 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, any future development at the site of the Bobbin Mill would still be subject to conditional use by the Warren Development Review Board (DRB), which does take into consideration environmental impact, so on Tuesday the select board accepted a carve-out along the top portion of the mill.
Before accepting the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District as a whole, however, the board heard from Virginia Roth, whose two Warren Village properties are affected by the district. "I don't think anyone ever physically went there to look at the terrain," Roth said, arguing that her property is protected from flooding and erosion by the steep rock ledge that borders the river.
Indeed, the overlay district in the village "is pretty minimal, because of the bedrock there," select board member Anson Montgomery said, but Roth requested the district be redrawn to 50 feet back from the river, rather than 100 feet back.
In terms of developing her property, "I'm so restricted anyway, and I'd like to do something with [it] for the benefit of the village," Roth said.
"I don't think [the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Overlay District] is as impactful in your situation as you think it is," select board member Bob Ackland said, "but we'll take a look at it." The select board agreed to print maps with more detailed information showing the current river setback line compared to the proposed overlay district line on Roth's property, and to schedule a site visit to see the situation firsthand.