By Lisa Loomis
Waitsfield voters rejected new subdivision regulations by a vote of 115 to 70 this week.
Polls were open on Tuesday, October 23, for voters to affirm or reject revised subdivision regulations. The regulations were approved by the town select board on July 23, with one dissenting vote. In August the town received a petition from 82 residents asking that the matter be brought forward for a public vote.
The rejection of the new regulations means that the town's old subdivision regulations, adopted in 1988, remain in effect. Those old regulations were cited by planners and reviewers as outmoded and one size fits all in terms of how they viewed the disparate areas of the town. The new regulations took a more careful look at the town and were written to be responsive to specifics of the town's geography, development and settlement patterns.
The new regulations were more specific to the town's various districts and zones and better reflected and use patterns and historic uses, according to the authors. The old regulations offered up a single pattern of regulation for the entire town without regard to use, topography and natural or scenic resources.
In addition to overhauling the old regulations, the new regulations contained some nuts-and-bolts housekeeping amendments such as allowing the town's zoning administrator to grant simple lot line adjustments without requiring the applicant to go through the entire application and regulatory review process. That time-saving measure is now lost along with other small amendments.
A vocal opponent of the new regulations was select board member Paul Hartshorn who said that the new regulations allowed the town to blackmail would-be subdividers into giving the town a right of way for a future road network. At public hearings on the regulations, Hartshorn said the regulations allowed town-sanctioned blackmail and allowed the town to take property without compensation.
His issue was with a clause in the new regulations, which calls for planners and specifically the development review board to consider development access roads as they relate to existing public and private roads in terms of proximity, connectivity and topography.
That section of the new regulations reads as follows: (emphasis added)
(7) Roads shall, to the extent feasible, be designed and laid out to:
(a) avoid adverse impacts to natural, historic, cultural and scenic resources;
(b) be consistent with existing road patterns in village and other settlement areas;
(c) maximize connectivity within the subdivision and to adjoining parcels and road networks;
(c) follow existing linear features, such as utility corridors, tree lines, hedgerows and fence lines;
(e) avoid fragmentation of farmland and other natural and cultural features identified in Section 3.3.
The planners who wrote the new zoning countered that the former zoning contains the same clause and that both are based on portions of the Town Plan. The current regulations, which now remain in effect, read (emphasis added)
Section 2. Roads
All roadways and intersections shall be designed to insure the safe and efficient movement of vehicles. Roads shall be logically related to the topography so as to produce usable lots and reasonable grades. 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 the subdivider's property may be required.
The board's support of the new regulations follows three years of planning work on the part of the planning commission, updating subdivision regulations adopted in 1988. After planners and hired consultants revamped the regulations, they also heard from a group of local land use attorneys who raised issues with several aspects of the new regulations. The planners incorporated some changes suggested by the local attorneys and did not adopt others.