Questions raised about proposed subdivision at 125 Lake Road

During their regular meeting on Thursday, Oct. 7, the Planning Commission continued a public hearing on a planned nine-lot subdivision for 125 Lake Road.

Plans for the subdivision were originally submitted by property owners Jim Donovan and Patricia O’Donnell in November 2020.

The parcel is located in the Rural Zoning District, however, the Conservation Zoning District cuts through the property for 100 feet on either side of Holmes Creek.

The project proposes nine lots subdivided from 124.14 acres.

While lots two through eight will have development potential for residential units, the first lot, totaling 44.4 acres, would be designated for farm use.

“That lot will be, at the behest of the Charlotte Land Trust, a place for a future farmer and an agricultural lot,” Donovan said at the meeting.

Donovan said that both he and O’Donnell have been working on a conservation land sale to the Land Trust.

Donovan said that Lot #9, which is 74 acres, would remain a conserved open space through an agreement with the town.

The lot includes Holmes Creek, along with shrub and forest areas of the parcel.

While residents of the subdivision will be permitted to walk and hike the open space, it would not be open to other residents to limit access to Clemmons Family Farm property, which is located to the south of the parcel.

“Seven other individual lots [that will be developed] will have nine individual wells, but they all will be connected to a common septic system that is located on an adjacent parcel that is to the north,” Donovan said. “In preparing the proposed subdivision, we worked to conserve as much of the agricultural portions of this parcel as possible, while also retaining the forest, and leaving the wildlife habitat undisturbed, along with minimizing the visual impacts to the surrounding roads, the surrounding properties, and the town park to the east.”

He said that the proposed plan preserves about 95 percent of the site for agricultural use or wildlife habitat.

“This will leave about five percent of the site for developing into residential lots,” he said. “We will have a homeowners association that will manage all the common areas of the property, along with roads and the septic system.”

Donovan said that the property will not offer affordable housing.

“Because we want to market these lots as relatively low priced for the Charlotte market, and because we have reduced the number of lots from what we originally proposed, we are no longer able to offer any housing deemed as ‘affordable’ by zoning regulations,” Donovan said. “However, we are trying to market these lots for a relatively low-end market for Charlotte.”

“We’ve done a little review about what lots cost in Charlotte, and they are $200,000 and upward,” O’Donnell said. “We are looking to [sell the lots] below $200,000. We would like it to be below $150,000 [per lot], but we don’t know until we know the full development costs and until we can get a little bit further with discussions with the land trust about what we might be able to sell the farm lot and development rights for.”

Donovan said that the two co-owners will be selling the subdivision lots and will not be selling houses that are going to be on the lots.

“The buyers are going to build houses on the lots,” Donovan said. “We are planning to have restrictions from the homeowner’s association as to how big a house you can build. You are not going to get large houses on these tiny lots.”

O’Donnell said it was his understanding that, as owners of the land, “we need to build out and pay for the group septic system, and potentially bear the cost of drilling the wells ourselves.”

During the public comments session of the meeting, resident Sharon Mount, whose property neighbors the Donovan-O’Donnell property, read her letter to the commission into the record.

“We have brought a postcard that depicts the field we are discussing,” Mount said. “Others may be aware that in the National Geographic 1967 centerfold, this area was chosen to be the most scenic view in Vermont. A quote from the Charlotte town plan, Chapter 1.2, reads as follows: Charlotters value their town as a highly scenic rural community that seeks to provide community services at a scale that complements their small rural and agricultural community. We are not Shelburne. We are not Williston. And we are not Hinesburg, where Jim Donovan and Patricia O’Donnell are involved in a 31-unit resident subdivision development.”

Mount said that both she and other residents are concerned with potential increased traffic to the neighborhood, along with the potential impact of nine new wells on the town’s water supply.

“But mostly, we are concerned that allowing this type of development opens a faucet, a floodgate for further housing developments which will forever change the nature of Charlotte,” Mount said.

“Please know that we are not against development. Charlotte needs low-income housing. Landowners have rights. But development needs to be in line with the goals set forth in our town plan and voted on by Charlotters.”

On the town’s website, there are letters both for and against the proposed subdivision.

Peter and Carrie Fenn wrote a letter to the commission supporting Donovan and O’Donnell’s plans.

“This subdivision is clearly a carefully thought out use of the land, designed to maximize conservation while increasing density,” the couple wrote. “By conserving the large majority of the property to be used for agricultural purposes, and creating a small, clustered neighborhood, the property can maintain its beauty and economic vitality, while providing much-needed housing for Charlotte and Vermont. We applaud the care and diligence Mr. Donovan and Ms. O’Donnell have taken in planning this subdivision.”

The public hearing was continued to the next regular Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

“This is a big project, so this might take a while,” then-Commission Chairman Peter Joslin said.

Peter Joslin resigned as chair of the Planning Commission on October 12.