By Lisa Loomis

The Waitsfield Planning Commission has modified two controversial sections of its subdivision regulations, which were voted down 115 to 70 in October.

The regulations are slated to come back before voters at Town Meeting this spring if the select board passes on the proposed changes. Two specific areas of the subdivision regulations were identified by a handful of people as problematic and the reason for them being shot down in October. The regulations brought 20-year-old regulations up to date.

Those two specific areas have to do with connectivity between subdivisions and how open land, specifically prime agriculture land, may be developed.

The regulations that were shot down called for town regulatory bodies to maximize connectivity within subdivisions and to adjoining parcels and road networks. Specifically they read: "The arrangement of roads in the subdivision should provide for the continuation of roads of adjoining subdivisions, and for the extension of roads to connect with adjoining properties which are not yet subdivided, in order to:

(1) accommodate emergency response vehicle access,

(2) facilitate the efficient movement of traffic,

(3) achieve the policies of the Waitsfield Town Plan regarding the establishment of connector roads, and

(4) ensure the orderly extension of utilities and public services.  

The planning commission has changed that wording to read: "Coordination with Adjoining Properties. Roads and pedestrian paths should be coordinated with neighboring properties to the extent feasible to ensure access to emergency vehicles, mitigate traffic impacts likely to result from a proposed subdivision, conserve energy and support pedestrian circulation."

The new version spells out two different standards for connectivity, one for Irasville and Waitsfield Village, business and residential districts and one for the ag/res and commercial lodging districts. The version that was shot down did not make such a distinction.

The original regulations, the ones updated by those voted down in October, were much more draconian in their approach to road connectivity between subdivisions. They read:

"Wherever extensions of proposed roads could rationally provide public access to adjacent properties or connection to existing public State or Town highways, a right of way across a subdivider's property may be required."

These original regulations are the actual regulations now in effect since the October vote and until any new regulations are voted on at Town Meeting.

Regarding how prime agricultural land is subdivided the regulations that were voted down in October called for protecting farmland by locating lot boundaries and development envelopes so as to avoid undue adverse impacts to primary ag soils and other open farm fields. Specifically, the regulations called for preserving primary ag soils and prohibiting subdivision boundaries from fragmenting land characterized by prime ag soils, unless it could be shown that the subdivided parcels would remain available for ag uses. The regs called for clustering buildings and vegetative barriers where necessary.

"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," read the final item under protection of farmland," reads the final clause of the October regs.

What the planning commission is proposing now is similar but clearer, according to planners.

"Subdividers of large, 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) shall include provision for the protection of open space in accordance with Section 3.9," the new regs read.

Section 3.9 which they reference concerns open space and common land and reads:

"Section 3.9 Dedication of Open Space & Common Land

(E) Mitgation of Resources. In the event that the Development Review Board determines that the off-site mitigation of one or more natural or cultural resources referenced in Section 3.3 would result in an improved development project, such as increasing the availability of affordable housing, and would lead to an increased level of protection of those resources referenced in Section 3.3 on a Town-wide or regional basis, the Board and Subdivider may enter into a mutually agreed upon mitigation plan. In the event the Town has adopted an official mitigation policy, the subdivision shall be reviewed in accordance with such a policy."

The old (original) regulations, which are currently in effect are less specific regarding prime ag soils, referencing instead "preservation of existing features." Those regulations state:

"Due regard shall be given to the preservation and protection of existing features such as but not limited to trees, scenic points and roads, brooks, streams, rock outcroppings, water bodies, forest resources, other natural resources, wild life habitat, historic resources, prime agricultural land, and open meadow land. Irregular, elongated or oversized lots may be restricted, and the location of structures or other improvements may be established or limited, to avoid the parcelization, isolation, or destruction of such features. Subdividers shall be referred to the Planned Residential Development of the Town Zoning ordinance to accomplish clustering of development density on the limited or non-resource portions of the parcel."