The Selectboard began the process of interviewing applicants for the town’s new Development Review Board during its regular meeting on November 22. Prospective appointees included past and present members of both the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission as well as those who had previously opposed forming a DRB.
The Selectboard said the DRB will have five members and two alternates with terms ranging from two and three years. Unlike the ZBA it replaces, the DRB will conduct both conditional use review and site plan analysis.
“We’ve been really lucky on this DRB, to date we have a lot of applications,” Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner said.
All the DRB applicants were male; something noted as “problematic” by PC member Bill Stuono during the public comments portion of the meeting.
“We have many qualified professional women in town, I think we really need to try and reach them,” Stuono said.
Stuono was the first DRB applicant to be interviewed by the board.
“I have a degree in planning and policy. I think of myself as a problem solver and consensus builder and a roll up my sleeves type,” Stuono said. “I’m here to put my hat in the ring to try to help this town along and move forward.”
Faulkner asked if Stuono planned to stay on the planning board if he were to be appointed to the DRB. Stuono replied he would serve on both boards “in the short term, to try and get us forward during this time of transition.”
Stuono said he previously served on DRBs in South Burlington and Shelburne.
Selectboard Vice-Chair Frank Tenney pointed out that serving on the DRB entailed following the bylaws rather than seeking to amend them.
“A lot of people get confused when they want to get on the DRB, they think they’re going to change the whole town,” Tenney said. “But the DRB is basically supposed to look at an application and follow the [land use regulations] and do what’s right according to the rules.”
Planning Commission Member Gerald Bouchard also applied for a DRB seat.
“Somebody from the Planning Commission should be on the DRB for continuity purposes,” Bouchard said. “This is my 12th year on the Planning Commission. My knowledge of the DRB? Zero. So, it’s going to be a learning experience if I’m appointed.”
Charles Russell, who served on the current ZBA for six months, said if appointed to the DRB he would not concern himself with whether the town should be more or less “restrictive” toward development.
“The [land use] rules are the rules,” Russell said. “It’s important to me that we have a clear due process, fair to everybody.”
Russell said he hoped the DRB would adopt the ZBA’s new procedures and ethics rules, particularly about open meetings.
“We have open deliberations unless we decide to close them and from a transparency standpoint, the open deliberations have worked well,” Russell said. “So, I would encourage our [DRB] rules to be open deliberation.”
ZBA member and DRB hopeful Eli Lesser-Goldsmith read a statement outlining his vision for the town.
“The question remains what kind of town and community do we want to be?” Lesser-Goldsmith asked. “Do we want to be a place where we do things the way we’ve always done them? Or do we want to change and progress? Do we want to be stuck in the past, or do we want to embrace the future?”
Selectboard member Lewis Mudge said it sounded like Lesser-Goldsmith was “more interested in the planning aspect” of reviewing applications than in serving on the DRB.
“The DRB is really going to be this body that interprets what’s already been established,” Mudge said. “Will you be able to balance your broad vision about change but also recognize this is a technical position whereby you’re just helping to ascertain whether rules are being followed?”
Faulkner agreed with Mudge.
“I think what you’re talking about, trying to be progressive and innovative — that’s probably something the Planning Commission would do,” Faulkner told Lesser-Goldsmith.
Lesser-Goldsmith said he would be happy to serve on either board.
“I’ll leave that up to you. I’m here to serve. Put me in wherever you’d like,” he said.
Former ZBA member Stuart Bennett, who previously opposed the town’s move to a DRB, said he was now interested in serving on the board.
“I was critical of the concept of a DRB, there’s no secret about that,” Bennett said.
He explained that upon further reflection he decided a DRB structure would be “certainly workable”, and indicated he wanted the board to succeed.
“You don’t want to see it stumble,” he said. “The town is entitled to something that works right out of the gate.”
Current ZBA member and DRB applicant JD Herlihy described himself as a “a bit of a geek for the Land Use Regulations” and said he did not believe the DRB should “interpret” the regulations but rather should apply them “as they are.”
Faulkner said he agreed with Herlihy characterization of the DRB’s role.
“I like that,” Tenney said.
Current ZBA Chair Lane Morrison said he hoped to be appointed to the DRB “to continue the work” of the ZBA.
“Our (ZBA’s) procedures and our process have been improved, so I think we’re in the right course,” Morrison said. “I do want to be clear that our job is to adjudicate land use regulations, that’s our job, and we understand that.”
Resident Peter Richardson, who has not served on the ZBA or the PC, joked that “There are few opportunities, after a certain state of life, where you get to say, ‘my offering here is to provide new blood.’”
Richardson said he has experience both in public and private program development and has “been on the other side of the table” with regard to development review and “dealing with development projects in various communities.”
Several Selectboard members said they were impressed with Richardson’s background and resume. Richardson said he would also accept an alternate seat.
Rick Pete, who applied for an alternate seat, did not attend the meeting.
Faulkner said the Selectboard will “probably” hold a special meeting on Dec. 6 or 13 to announce which applicants were chosen to serve on the DRB.
“There will be no decisions made tonight,” Faulkner said.