East Charlotte Village LUR amendments: An analysis of the issues

It’s the biggest topic of the year—you’ve read about it in the paper for months, you’ve been to the Planning Commission Meetings, seen the Front Porch Forum posts, and read varying opinions in letters to the editor. Without Town Meeting for discussion and questions this year, it’s up to you to figure out on your own what you think. And you’re still not sure what the real story is with Articles 6 and 7 and how they will affect you.

Following are some of the most common questions we’ve received at The Charlotte News regarding the East Charlotte Village Land Use Regulation amendments that are on the ballot on March 2. In trying to present both sides of the issue, I’ve summarized and condensed comments and opinions from letters to the editor, past articles and public comment during multiple Planning Commission and Selectboard meetings.

The article by Peter Joslin, from the Planning Commission gives a history and explanation of the particulars of each article; here are the confusing parts, hopefully explained.

 Why do some think the East Charlotte Village Commercial District (ECVCD) Land Use Regulations (LURs) will cause positive development?
Allowing the commercial district to expand in East Charlotte will open opportunities for property owners in that zone to develop communities of affordable and senior housing. More dwelling units in the village area means acting on the mandate set forth in the Town Plan to offer a range of more affordable housing options in Charlotte for seniors and families of varied incomes.

Why do some think the ECVCD LURs will cause problematic development?
It’s unclear how many housing units will ultimately be constructed in the expanded commercial district. Because impact studies will not be completed until there’s an actual possibility of development in an area, there’s no way to tell in advance how increased housing density will affect traffic, the environment, taxes and wastewater issues in the surrounding area.

 Why do people support Articles 6 and 7?
People who support Articles 6 and 7 acknowledge that, in order for a community to thrive, there must be some form of development; passing these amendments doesn’t necessarily mean there will be quick, haphazard, damaging development in the area, it just means that the opportunity now exists to create thoughtful and meaningful growth. The Town Plan and a 2010 survey of East Charlotte residents indicate that there is a desire for improvement and growth in the area, and these articles open the door to make that happen.

 Why don’t people support Articles 6 and 7?
People who don’t support Articles 6 and 7 are concerned about the repercussions of passing these articles without consideration of the impact of expanding sewage capacity under the roads to nearby neighborhoods. They are also concerned that the priorities and people in the area have changed since the survey was initially done 11 years ago, and that once the door is opened to development, it will be too difficult to manage—like putting the proverbial toothpaste back into the tube. Some also think that there needs to be more time, more discussion, more planning and more study before a permanent change to the LURs is approved.

How could this be considered spot zoning?
Spot zoning is creating a law or laws specific to one area to suit the development needs of one particular project or property. Because Articles 6 and 7 apply only to the East Village Commercial District and not other commercial districts in town, some are concerned that approving these changes for only part of town, and for only a handful of property owners, is the very definition of spot zoning.

 How could it not be considered spot zoning?
The history of the intersection where the changes will take place, which is known as Baptist Corners, is varied and extends back for generations. Zoning has changed in this area multiple times, and some say that excluding just this one particular corner from the commercial district goes against the history of the area, and that including it would set the situation back to where it once was previously.

 What exactly did the Selectboard vote on last week and was there a conflict of interest for any members?
Last week, the Selectboard voted 4-1 to put these articles forward to voters on the ballot. They did not vote in favor of or against the articles or amendments themselves. Two Selectboard members, Carrie Spear and Frank Tenney, own property that is currently included in the ECVCD. Spear owns a store in the East Village; Tenney’s brother owns a store in the East Village. Neither recused themselves from the vote, giving the reason that they don’t believe they stand to gain anything from sending the issue to the voters, and that they don’t think they would benefit financially or personally should the amendments pass; these decisions are generally left to the individuals potentially conflicted. Some believe that it’s inevitable that property or store owners in the village commercial district, or their families, would eventually benefit financially from increased density. Others think they should have recused themselves to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.