Selectboard: dog leash debate still running, board encourages community participation at meetings and on boards

Heightened tensions over a proposed leash law amendment by the Thompson’s Point Leaseholders Association have not yet abated and no decision has been reached, though community input is being considered. The Selectboard also discussed recent community response to Land Use Regulations and talked about allowing video equipment to be installed in Town Hall. The board also resolved the issue with Morningside Cemetery.

Community input was the main feature during discussion about whether or not the town, in conjunction with the Thompson’s Point Leaseholder’s Association (TPLA), should require dogs to be leashed on the point. There is no leash law anywhere in Charlotte; the current law says that dogs should be under control either by leash or voice command.

Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow said that based on previous discussions from prior meetings, “It seems to be that there is an existing ordinance, town-wide, that dogs need to be in control, and that is enforceable.” He noted that creating a law for one section of town, especially one that is only open seasonally, doesn’t make sense when more time and money could be spent on enforcing the current law.

Three other Selectboard members agreed; Carrie Spear did not. She said she is in favor of creating a leash law that applies to the entire town of Charlotte to prevent dogs from running off-leash in any part of town. Creating this new law I s not currently on the Selectboard’s agenda.

Krasnow compared creating a new leash law for Thompson’s Point to lowering the speed limit on a road when drivers are already going too fast. “It’s about control,” he said, and said he thought that once dog walkers realized that there was an officer patrolling the area and that violators were being fined, people would comply more because of the threat of a consequence.

Charlotte Canine Control Officer Cali Griswold, who has been on the job for seven years, said she is in support of a leash law. “There is a gray area with verbal command,” she said, that makes enforcement more vague. If there is a leash law and a person has no leash in his hand, she said, then she could definitively fine him for not following the rules. “A leash law is black and white,” she said, and leaves less room for ambiguity. She noted that complaints on Thompson’s Point have been increasing over the past two years.

Members of the TPLA joined the discussion; John Streng, the association’s vice president, said that at their latest meeting after a “long discussion, the majority decided the thing to do is improve signage that would encourage people to pick up after their pets and keep dogs under control. That’s the motion that was passed.”

After several speakers voiced their support for both sides of the leash debate, the discussion turned to the beach at Whiskey Bay, which is the one beach in town that allows dogs. Both TPLA and community members Ruth Tonino, Charles Russell, and Jessie Price all spoke in support of prohibiting dogs from Whiskey Beach, citing problems with dog poop, dogs going onto nearby properties, and other issues like parking. Price said that, though she isn’t in favor of a leash law on the point, she supports other changes, and mentioned that parking is “out of control” in the beach area. “There’s a problem at Whiskey Bay. Banning dogs is just the start…People are parking in the country club parking spots.”

Presenting the counterpoint to some comments asserting that dogs are out of control in the area, Beth Humstone said, “I see people picking up after their dogs, and people being responsible with their dogs. Not everyone agrees that this is a crisis.”

The discussion was eventually tabled due to time constraints, and Krasnow said, “I want to make sure town is being judicious…there is a range of emotions that resort to a primal nature.” Talks will resume at the next meeting.

Vermont Community Access Media (VCAM) is a nonprofit cable access organization that streams and then makes available online public meetings and other events around the state, including Selectboard meetings. Ken French is a Charlotter who works there. He proposed that VCAM install small cameras permanently in the corners of the Town Hall meeting room and use microphones on the table where Selectboard members sit.

Noting that selectboards in Shelburne and Hinesburg have already gone this route with their broadcasting, French said the change would eliminate need for big camera at the back of the room blocking the doorway and would result in more professional-looking sounding meetings of better sound and video quality.

French said the cameras would still have to be turned on and off by a VCAM employee and would not be accessible or usable for others for any purpose at other times. Selectboard member Louise McCarren said she would like to learn more about it because the privacy aspect was important to her. Spear said she does not want to have these installed because she likes not having microphones on the table and she feels comfortable with the way things are.

Krasnow noted to laughter around the table that there is “historic reticence” to having recording equipment installed in the room, referencing an incident from December 2010 when, during the course of renovations to the ceiling, listening devices were found under ceiling tiles in the conference room and in the Town Clerk’s office. It was never discovered who installed them or when.

The board decided to learn more about the process and the technology and discuss it at the next meeting.

The final major discussion centered around Land Use Regulations, which caused contention within the community when the owners of Charlotte Crossings on Route 7 announced that they had received a cease and desist letter unexpectedly shutting down food trucks that were operating in their parking lot throughout the summer.

Board member Frank Tenney, who is the liaison with the Planning Commission, said that to his knowledge, the property owners had not yet applied for the required permits that would allow them to resume hosting the food trucks. “The ball is in their court,” he said.

Community message board Front Porch Forum was the source of much discussion over the issue, with several commenters blaming the Selectboard for not allowing the food trucks to operate; the decision was not one for that board to make and was rather under the purview of the zoning administrator, Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals.

Krasnow said he wanted to let the public know that the zoning administrator, Planning Commission and ZBA “have authorities granted to them by the state statute system…I was reading opinions that took into account information that was not accurate about the capacities of different town bodies.”

Krasnow encouraged the public to attend meetings, which are currently held via Zoom. He also pointed out that there are historically and currently vacant seats on the Planning Commission and on other town boards, commissions and committees, and that “there are a ton of opportunities to get involved and make positive changes.”

Other news
Valerie Buybieck from Thompson’s Point, read a statement during public comment and spoke again during the LUR discussion about an issue with the town’s subdivision of her lot and the adjacent lot, and asked the Selectboard to resolve the issue in a way that is satisfactory and that she and her husband want to “move forward to resolve this in good faith.”

Recreation Commissioner Bill Fraser-Harris wrapped up the season for the Charlotte Beach. He said it was a “tremendous success…revenue tripled. I want to acknowledge a success story; with all the issues in our lives right now regarding COVID, we were able to open and allow the facility to be used in a safe and appropriate manner.”

A committee was formed to plan and oversee the possible construction of a town garage and salt shed, possibly at the former flea market property on Route 7. The members are Bill Stuono, Frank Tenney, Moe Harvey, Jr Lewis and Jim Faulkner. They hope to figure out their next steps within the next three months.