Finer points of LURs nailed down, now ready for public comment

The Planning Commission held a special meeting Sept. 24 to mark up and approve a final draft of the Charlotte Land Use Regulations (LUR) amendments. The purpose of the meeting wasn’t to develop policy, which has been in progress for the last year, but rather to identify and clarify any outstanding gray areas in language or policy. The full board attended the meeting, along with several audience members who logged in through Zoom. The amendments passed with one nay vote, which came from commission member Bill Stuono.

The LUR amendments were divided by the PC into three sections, what they referred to as “buckets,” and changes were addresses for each of the three sections. Bucket 1 was the East Charlotte Village Commercial District, bucket 2 was Act 143, specifically accessory on-farm businesses, and then what PC Chair Peter Joslin called “minor fixes discovered over the years, and everything else.”

The changes discussed regarding the East Charlotte commercial district tweaked language regarding wastewater and water supply. The PC, along with Clark Hinsdale, audience member and developer, discussed the finer points of transferable density, which is the concept of purchasing and developing certain areas of land in a more developed section of town with the understanding that public or open land will be conserved in other, less dense areas.

In response to inquiries from Stuono regarding density transfer, Hinsdale said, “I just can’t imagine the Planning Commission saying it’s okay to kill density in the village in order to put more development in an open farm field.” He said he has owned property in the village for a long time that he hopes to develop in the East Village, and said that as he approaches his 65th birthday, he realizes that the laws that are developed now are the ones that apply to what he does with the land. Though Hinsdale is not now a Charlotte resident, he was consulted multiple times during the meeting for explanations and clarifications by several members of the commission.

Charlotter Alex Bunten also checked in during the meeting to clarify whether or not the proposed changes to the East Village Commercial Zone leave adequate space for existing wetlands.

Accessory on-farm businesses are a part of Act 143, a state law that allows farms to operate businesses with a limited amount of municipal oversight as long as 50% of their profits come from items produced on the farm. Joslin said the PC met and received input from community members, Charlotte farmers, people from Philo Ridge Farm who have been operating under the law, and that commission members attended a seminar specifically focused on the law.

Lewack said he put out a call for models from other towns in Vermont to see how other municipalities are handling the situation and how they are able to “regulate within the boundary of the law and be more proactive.” The language changed in the amendments reflects clarification that parking can’t negatively impact roads or adjacent driveways, requires driveways and access points to be safe and accessible for emergency vehicles, and requires new curb cuts or access points to receive approval from the Selectboard.

The language used in the LUR amendments sometimes got in the way of clarity; Lewack said, regarding the language used to define a commercial farm stand, “the current definitions would make your head explode.” A similar theme was to be found with other items in the third bucket. Outdoor storage guidelines are addressed in the LUR amendments, and Lewack said the PC “shouldn’t have regulatory language in the definition…say in the standard what you can do.” This translates into the amendment reading that outdoor storage is not allowed unless certain conditions are met—in this case, they relate to food waste, which is required by law to be separated, or boats, campers, and other items that are defined separately.

The Planning Commission will host a public hearing on the draft of the LUR amendments tonight at 7:10 p.m. via Zoom. The link is on the Town of Charlotte website.