Fayston Select Board considers changes to land use regulations

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Members of the Fayston Select Board and the public questioned the town planning commission about proposed changes to the land use regulations currently under consideration.

At its February 5 meeting, the board raised questions about some of those changes. They include the creation of a natural resource overlay district, changes to the forest reserve district and changes to a section regarding protection of natural and cultural resources.

More specifically, in the forest reserve district, which includes land above 2,500 feet in elevation, driveways and roads longer than 500 feet would be prohibited and new biking and horseback riding trails would be prohibited.

IMPACT STATEMENT

In the natural resource overlay district, which includes land between 1,700 and 2,500 feet in elevation, proposed development would be subject to both a wildlife impact statement and a visual impact statement. Additionally, in that district, telecommunications facilities and wind turbines are prohibited in special flood hazard areas as well as on publicly owned land.

Select board members asked members of the planning commission, most of whom were present, about the impacts of the natural resources overlay district in terms of how many parcels were affected and how much of the land in the town that impacts.

“Not as much as you’d think,” said planning commissioner Polly McMurtry.

“It’s a little more than the number of parcels that will be affected. Some are already there and are small and won’t be affected; some are already developed and won’t be subdivided further. Some are huge. People have a look at the map and see which parcels are affected,” commissioner Carol Chamberlain said.

DENSE DEVELOPMENT

Select board member Chuck Martel said he’d heard concerns voiced that the new overlay district would affect areas like Mad River Glen at high elevations where current land use regulations call for more dense development.

“All the underlying districts are still there. The overlay district says you have to look a little bit closer. We’re not getting rid of the intended density that the regulations call for at Mad River. It’s just like the flood hazard overlay district,” Chamberlain explained.

Many questions were asked about the prohibition of roads and driveways longer than 500 feet. Questions were raised about whether that is for public or private roads or both and about the rationale for the number of 500 feet.

UP FOR DISCUSSION

“That was up for discussion. We’re looking in our notes for how we got there. The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) recommends a number,” McMurtry said.

Chamberlain said that the VNRC doesn’t set a road limit but does talk about how, at 100 meters in, a road is in core habitat. One of the reasons for the natural resources overlay district, she said, is to protect core habitat.

“Our Town Plan is going to have to address forest blocks. There’s at least one town in Vermont that has similar restrictions; theirs is 800 feet. With the terrain here, 500 feet seemed reasonable. Whether that’s the exact right number, we’ll have to determine,” Chamberlain said.

The current land use regulations require that driveways do not impact natural resources, do not cause erosion, etc.

500-FOOT RESTRICTION

Planning commissioner Don Simonini disagrees with the proposed 500-foot restriction.

“If driveways are built correctly, they won’t impact resources. I have friends who wouldn’t be able to build their houses today if these regulations were in effect. Their driveways are 6, 7, 800 feet. If you build a driveway correctly so it drains, that’s the key to any of these regulations. I think a 500-foot restriction, in this town, is unrealistic. You might want to go 1,500 feet to place your house where there’s a view. I don’t think it is in our purview to prevent people from developing their property, but we can ask that they do it without damaging wildlife and streams,” Simonini said.

He noted that his driveway is 1.5 miles up and said he had wildlife all over his 50 acres.

YOU’RE IN THEIR HABITAT

“You have them in your backyard because you’re in their habitat. That’s why people are having bear problems, because people are building where the bears are, McMurtry said.

Commissioner Shane Mullen said that the exact number of feet is something commissioners are still working out.

“Let’s take some feedback from stakeholders on the question and consider 500 feet a marker for now. Is it less or more? Do you need a variance for a longer road?” Mullen asked.

“The next item that jumped off the page for me was removal of biking and horseback riding trails in the forest reserve district and wanted to get more background from you on that,” asked select board chair Jared Cadwell.

SMALL PORTION OF TOWN

Mullen said that at 2,500 feet in elevation, the terrain was getting into more the fragile, high-elevation alpine environment and noted that it was very small portion of the town. Cadwell asked if the planning commissioners had met with the Mad River Ridge Runners or the Mad River Riders on this issue.

“I know they are very concerned about this. I know this second hand. They’re organized now and paying very close attention to trail maintenance. It’s part of the bigger conversation about recreation here in The Valley and how we manage it,” Cadwell said.

“It’s a very small portion of land that this is referring to,” Chamberlain said.

McMurtry pointed out that this change in the regulations prevents new trails, not existing trails.

NEW TRAIL DEVELOPMENT

Fayston resident John Hammond, at the hearing representing Sugarbush, was queried about the impact of the trail restriction on the ski resort. He said that while most of the mountain biking trails are in Warren, the ones in Fayston are at about 2,200 feet.

“If we ever wanted to do something above the GMX at Mount Ellen, would we be prohibited from new trail development above 2,500?” Hammond asked.

Mullen asked what guidelines Sugarbush uses for trail building and Hammond said the International Mountain Biking Association Trail Guide.

“It’s a bit dated, but it is what is used. The book calls for getting water off the trails as soon as possible, but newer best practices indicate that sometimes that’s not possible and you have to carry it on the uphill side of the trail until you can get it off,” Hammond said.

Further questions were raised about additional permitting requirements in the natural resources overlay district, specifically about whether that would be creating a situation where a project not subject to state level Act 250 review would be required to adhere to state level review standards.

The select board will hold its formal public hearing on the proposed changes to the land use regulations on February 19.

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