By Chea Waters Evans, News Editor
With three meetings in eight days, the Selectboard is just about on track for time spent getting the budget and ballot items ready for Charlotters. With Land Use Regulation (LUR) amendments on track to make it to a vote this spring, and around $70,00 that needs to be shaved off the budget, there’s a lot to talk about.
Land Use Regulation amendments
The Planning Commission has been working on amendments to LURs since 2008, Chair Peter Joslin said. There were over 70 to consider, and the PC divided them into three buckets for ease of discussion and to make it easier for the town to vote: Act 250, which deals with accessory on-farm businesses; expansion of the East Charlotte Village Commercial District; and some more mundane housekeeping and minutiae-related changes that often come down to wording and specifics of language. Much of the discussion comes down to the age-old, perennial conundrums: how much development in Charlotte is too much, and how can the town keep growing in ways that keep it vital for generations to come?
Though the East Charlotte Village (ECV) is the most controversial of the three buckets, at the Friday, Jan. 8 meeting and public comment regarding LURs, the Selectboard saved that topic for last. Proponents of expanding the ECV’s possibilities for development say that it’s been a long time coming to bring the village on that side of town up to par with the West Village; opponents say that the rural character could be compromised by too much development and that they are wary of the impact it could have on that section of town.
During Friday’s meeting, landowner Clark Hinsdale, who said he is one of seven major landowners who would be most affected by the ECV Commercial District amendments, spoke about his goals for his property in East Charlottte: senior and affordable housing and a vibrant village area that brings the east side of town up to par with the West Village. He said in order to develop his property to achieve those goals, he needs his property, the Sheehan house on the south west corner of Charlotte Hinesburg Road and Spear Street, to be included in the ECV Commercial District so it can be zoned commercially so he can develop in one-acre as opposed to five-acre lots. He said he also would need to be able to build septic underneath the road.
Hinsdsale pointed out that he has, over the past 35 years, conserved land around the perimeter of the East Village area, and that his intent all along was to improve Charlotte for Charlotters, particularly seniors. “We’re losing smart, capable seniors because there’s no damn place to live when they can’t take care of a big colonial house anymore,” he said.
Selectboard member Louise McCarren said she is on board with Hinsdale’s efforts to develop in the East Village. “It’s critical and I support it,” she said. Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin noted that little had changed in the East Charlotte Village over the past ten years and said, “The town has to grow.”
David Adsit, an East Charlotte resident, said he’s not sure the town has to grow in the way Hinsdale and the LUR amendments are proposing, noting that a 2010 PC survey of East Charlotte residents only tells part of the story about the need for growth in that area. The proposed changes to the commercial district, he said, “are a direct affront to the people in East Charlotte” who said they were opposed to development in the area. He said that most people he knew who lived in the area liked it how it is now.
He said the current impact research “isn’t enough information to be making these changes,” and said that one of his concerns that though affordable senior housing might be built in the area, there was no guarantee that it would actually be inhabited by Charlotters.
Alex Bunten, who also lives in the East Village, said he was concerned that Charlotte was making itself into a “lab rat” with zoning and density changes in the East Village, and that he thought any changes made should apply to all village zones in the town, not just the east. He also said he was concerned that the amendments were being proposed in order to accommodate one landowner.
East Charlotter and Planning Commission member Bill Stuono concurred that some of the proposed amendments in the ECV Commercial District troubled him as well. “We’re undermining out own senior and affordable housing ordinances,” he said, noting that current LURs already make density allowances for different types of housing.
Hinsdale grew frustrated at one point, saying he had been villainized, and saying to Bunten, “Alex, if you want to stop it, stop it. I can put a for sale sign on [the Sheehan property] and sell it to a developer who doesn’t give a damn about Charlotte’s future.”
The LURs will be discussed at one more public hearing at a Selectboard meeting on January 25 before they are finalized and put on the ballot in March on Town Meeting Day.
It’s no lie, the people of Charlotte don’t like big budgets, and during a pandemic that shows no sign of waning and an uncertain economic future for many, the Selectboard is committed to keeping the budget as flat as possible. In general, the town budget breaks down with 1/3 going to the road commissioner’s budget, 1/3 going to Charlottte Volunteer Fire and Rescue, and the remaining third is split approximately in half with payroll and other employee expenses and the remaining committees in town.
All fall and winter, town entities have been presenting their budgets to the Selectboard and then coming back with new, smaller figures, and there’s still about $70,000 left to go.
Monday’s meeting saved about half of that, with $10,000 optimistically removed from the legal budget, and CVFRS volunteering to lower its reserve fund to $95,000.
The final opportunity for Charlotters to weigh in on the budget before it goes to a vote is at the Jan. 25 Selectboard meeting.