The Charlotte Planning Commission (PC) spent over two and a half hours last Thursday going over the finer points and specific language of proposed amendments to town Land Use Regulations (LUR). Marty Illick, a member of the PC, said that this nitty-gritty work was the culmination of over two years of work on regulations that affect not only current Charlotters, but future residents. Commission members decided to split the items for discussion and presentation into three “buckets” for ease of comprehension and voting: East Village, Act 143, and a bucket for cleaning up language that might be imprecise and add definitions for unclear language.
The beginning of the meeting focused on lot size parameters in the East Village—the LUR discussion is tied in with future development, and lot size is one factor. Past discussion touched on a proposed development off of Hinesburg Road in East Charlotte, with developer Clark Hinsdale at the helm. The PC’s newest member, Bill Stuono, expressed reservations about moving forward with the small size of East Village lot sizes as were laid out in the current plan and how a developer’s use of said regulations could impact that part of town.
“Nobody is for it,” Stuono said. “I can give you a list of 20 people…There is no evidence that reducing lot sizes is going to promote more affordable housing…there’s nothing here that talks about sewer, septic, soil, water availability.”
Peter Joslin, PC chair, said that the commission had already discussed them “numerous times,” and Stuono interrupted to say, “I don’t think that’s an accurate statement,” and said that before he joined the PC he had brought those issues to light at several meetings but that in his opinion they had not been adequately discussed.
“I remember one quote by one planning commission member saying, we couldn’t do this in West Charlotte, so we’re going to try to do it in East Charlotte,” he said, not mentioning which member said it. “As an East Charlotte resident, you don’t know how offensive that sounded… because there is this West Charlotte versus East Charlotte thing that’s going on and I don’t think we should emphasize it. You don’t know how offensive that is.”
PC member Charlie Pughe said, “I want to go on the record saying that I’m very concerned about Bill’s ability to be impartial, and I’m not sure a recusal is required for this.”
Joslin said, “I really don’t know but it’s a valid question; I will talk to [Town Administrator Dean Bloch] and have it resolved by next Thursday.”
“There’s no reason for me to recuse myself because I happen to live in East Charlotte Village,” Stuono said. “This is a zoning change; we’re not approving an application.”
“We have to get clarity. I honestly don’t know,” Joslin said, and assured Stuono that should he decide to vote against the East Village boundary changes, he wouldn’t have to vote down every amendment change because of the bucket system.
Act 143 is a Vermont state law that gives farms leeway to operate accessory on-farm businesses that are largely exempt from municipal oversight as long as they earn 50 percent of their profits through farm products. During the PC meeting, members tightened language regarding under which circumstances site plan reviews would be necessary for these businesses, and discussed possible enforcement of the 50-percent rule.
Much of the discussion throughout the meeting, and especially that regarding the third bucket, focused on word choices: One section of the proposed amendments used the phrase “may be”, which was eventually changed to “shall be”, to avoid allowing excessive legal wiggle room to developers. There was also brief discussion of what constitutes “junk” in a farm’s yard—many times that junk is used for parts for other farm equipment.
Town Planner Larry Lewack said that the next step in the process is to warn the public of and then hold a PC meeting where the draft will be presented. Any changes resulting from that meeting will be added to the draft amendments, which will be checked out by the town attorney, and then the document will be presented to the Selectboard. This process will take place over the winter; the final goal is for voters to approve the buckets at town meeting.