LUR amendment discussion prompts conflict of interest charge

Lake Road development planning allowed to proceed

The Oct. 1 Charlotte Planning Commission meeting started with confusion and contention, partly due to the perpetual challenges of holding municipal meetings via Zoom video call and partly because of another conflict of interest allegation against Planning Commission member Bill Stuono—this time by a meeting attendee.

During the public comment segment of the public hearing portion of the meeting, which allowed community members to ask questions about and discuss proposed amendments to Charlotte’s Land Use Regulations, (LUR) there was some trouble from the Planning Commission end regarding sound and confusion on the part of meeting attendees on how to “raise their hand” virtually; the phrase refers to a function on the Zoom platform, but some took it literally and raised their hands waiting for a turn to speak.

Once the confusion settled and just before the discussion on the LURs was to begin, Clark Hinsdale, a Ferrisburgh resident and Charlotte property owner, questioned Stuono’s ability to be impartial. A portion of the proposed LUR amendments takes place in the East Charlotte Village, where the Sheehan Green neighborhood is located.

Hinsdale, who owns property in the East Charlotte Village that he wants to develop and would be directly affected by approval of the LURs, said “Bill Stuono has violated the conflict of interest policy over and over, and used his position on the Planning Commission to advocate for his own personal position as a resident of Sheehan Green. He should be asked to be removed from the table, and go sit in the audience, and not participate in continuing to harangue the Planning Commission and continuing to vote no on what happens in his neighborhood.”

At this point, meeting attendee Brownie Adsit interjected and disagreed with Hinsdale. “I’m not clear that [Stuono’s] neighborhood is involved, there doesn’t seem to be anything that’s changed in Sheehan Green,” he said. “I would object to that.” Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin reminded Adsit that it was important to speak in order and let Hinsdale finish, saying they would “get nowhere fast” if people kept interrupting, for which Adsit apologized.

As Hinsdale continued his complaint about Stuono, he also began to explain his position regarding why he believed that a third of the four corners in the East Village, at the intersection of Spear Street and Charlotte Hinesburg Road, should be zoned as part of the commercial district—a zoning designation that Stuono objected to and said could be considered “spot zoning.”

Stuono interrupted and loudly objected to Hinsdale’s comments during this part of the discussion. “No, no,” he said, “Clark is monopolizing our meeting and he’s making an accusation here that I’d like to respond to first,” but he was interrupted by Hinsdale, who said he would respect Joslin’s opinion about who could speak. “I want Clark to finish,” Joslin said.

Hinsdale continued to explain his position on Village Zoning and commented that he did not like Stuono’s body language while he was speaking, which he could see over the Zoom video. Stuono attempted to talk once more, and both Joslin and Planning Commission member Marty Ilick told Stuono to be quiet.

Hinsdale continued to speak for minutes longer, continuing to state his opinion on why the East Charlotte Village corner should be zoned commercially, and why he thought Stuono should recuse himself. He alleged that Stuono was exercising “undue, adverse influence” over the PC.

Joslin said “it’s ultimately up to Bill” to decide whether or not to recuse himself, and that the PC has been working on these amendments for years and now is the public’s opportunity to weigh in on such matters.

The amendments in question would extend the boundary of the East Charlotte Village Commercial District, change the density requirements for potential housing, and provide more flexibility for properties within that district to access to septic and water. LUR adjustments discussed at the Oct. 1 meeting also included Act 143 and accessory on-farm businesses.

The discussion over the LUR amendments will continue tonight, Oct. 15, at 7:10 p.m., during the regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting.

The other significant portion of Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to a sketch plan review of a proposed housing development on a 124-acre parcel of land at the intersection of Lake Road and Greenbush Road. Patricia O’Donnell and Jim Donovan purchased the land earlier this year; they own 112 acres adjoining this property. They said during the meeting that they bought the land, which is farmland, woods and wetlands, as a conservation effort to prevent a developer from purchasing the property and building more than 20 homes on the land. They said they are building homes not to develop the land and make money but to pay off the loan they secured to buy the property.

“When we, by surprise, saw the 125 Lake Road For Sale sign, we did some research and learned a developer was prepared to buy the property but not respect the use valuation program, which is known as current use. Charlotte zoning would allow that property to have 24 home or house lots. We were very concerned,” O’Donnell said. She said that dividing the property as such would result in “lost farmlands, scenic views over the property, and the open character of the northern part of the farm parcel. From our perspective, this was an unacceptable outcome.”

O’Donnell said she and Donavan are subdividing and building on the property in order to pay off the debt they incurred to purchase the land with the intent to preserve it. She said their intention is not to make money on the project. They purchased the 124.33 acres for $900,000 on April 13.

Members of the public expressed some support and some concern regarding the project, specifically mentioning ruining views for those on Greenbush Road and potentially disrupting a wildlife corridor and wetlands. Joslin called this first meeting essentially a “brainstorming” session for the PC, the property owners and the public. The commission voted to allow Donovan and O’Donnell to proceed with the planning process based on their current submission; no final plans were approved at this stage.