Planning commission navigating the twists and turns of land-use regulation

The planning commission has been chewing over land-use regulation amendments as diligently as a room full of teething toddlers trying to find a crack or cranny wherever their regulatory teeth can find purchase.

One issue that didn’t inspire much in the way of gum bumping is regulations about holding events on private property. The planning commission seems to be consumed, but unsure, with consideration of how event regulations should be written.

Sorry to dash your dreams, but the planning commission did seem to strongly agree that you should not be allowed to hold a carnival without a permit.

But where to draw the line? No loud or passionate debate was offered. All seemed in agreement that people should be able to hold a family wedding. But when do too many weddings become an event business?

And even for a one-off family wedding, how many guests before you’re required to get a Porta Potty? What’s the maximum number of people that can attend a gathering before arrangements for parking and traffic are required and what are those arrangements?

And then there’s the philosophical conundrum that would have knocked Descartes on his keister: What’s a food truck?

Town planner Larry Lewack told the planning commission at its meeting on April 21 the town staff is working on an ordinance to regulate such things as food trucks, concerts and festivals on public and private property.

“Let’s say we have a farm parcel that wants to bring in a carnival, one of those full-blown carnivals with mechanical rides, a midway and the whole nine yards?” Lewack said that would have implications for traffic safety and parking.

He doesn’t think the town would automatically prohibit such an event. It’s not something that would be permitted on a permanent basis, but it might be allowed on a temporary basis.

“That would be something that we would want them to ask for permission, rather than just bring in this big carnival and set it up in the farmyard and expect that it’s going to be OK without a review,” Lewack said.

The regulations the town develops should include guidelines about what sort of fire code or other safety restrictions will apply to events that are not permanent but regularly reoccurring like farmer’s markets.

“I think what we’re trying to do is set a standard for review that is not onerous, for ongoing temporary uses—and by temporary, I think seasonal would be a good way to think of it,” Lewack said.

Commission member Bob Bloch warned against the planning commission “spinning its wheels” working on these regulations when the selectboard might ultimately pass ordinances that cover such event issues. A conversation with the selectboard might help coordinate what will be covered in the ordinances by the selectboard and what should be covered in land-use regulations by the planning commission, he said.

To Bloch’s concern that the planning commission’s efforts to develop event regulations might mean the town might pass so many regulations that it doesn’t enforce any, commission member Kelly Devine replied it is like state park regulations that prohibit drinking at campsites: “They rarely enforce that until you act like an idiot.”

Member Kyra Wegman said what events are allowed on private property should be tempered by the possible consequences.

“I really am just thinking about environmental consequences for neighbors, like a lot of rodents,” Wegman said.

However the regulations develop, Lewack doesn’t see the town “going onto private property with a backyard party for a three-year-old’s birthday. We don’t want to go there. Land-use regulation really tries to straddle very important distinctions.”