Busy night for boards
by Margo Avakian
Sep 13, 2012 | 901 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- The planning commission and zoning board of adjustment each held a public hearing on Tuesday before hearing about a proposed cell phone corridor from Earl Holtz, and then settling down to a lengthy consultation with John Bennett, of the Windham Regional Commission. The ZBA, with John Brimmer presiding, opened the evening’s proceedings with a conditional use hearing for requested changes at the Abbott’s Glen property on Route 112. Owner Linwood Abbott is seeking approval to build a kitchen, increase restaurant seating, add a bath house and three bed and breakfast rooms to the lodge, and to reduce the number of tent camping sites from 12 to three, while replacing five of those tent sites with cabins.

Most of the requests seemed perfectly acceptable to the board and to those abutters who were present, including board member and Abbott abutter Linda Smith, who recused herself. The sticking point is Abbott’s unconventional plans for the cabins. The unplumbed structures, suitable for seasonal occupancy only, would not be owned by Abbott, though he would retain ownership of the sites. The cabins would be “built to our specifications,” Abbott said, but would be paid for by the owners. As currently envisioned, the structures would not be fastened to their foundation pads; theoretically, they could be moved if the contractual agreement between Abbott and the owners is dissolved. Alternatively, the cabins’ owners could sell them, but only to either Abbott himself or to purchasers he approves. The entire arrangement would be contractual, and no one who has not “been a member for at least a year would be eligible” to buy a cabin, Abbott said.

A host of questions arose. Are such contracts enforceable? In particular, how could Abbott prevent permanent occupancy by an owner? In the event of mutually agreed modifications of a contract, how would the town’s interests be protected? If the cabins were to be fastened down, would they then be considered permanent structures, triggering fresh zoning concerns? Can the property still be considered a campground? And what would the tax situation be?

Concluding that they now had “more questions than answers,” as Howard Alboum put it, the board decided to continue the hearing.

The planning commission hearing was brief, though again, not conclusive. Malcolm Sumner has applied to subdivide his land so as to deed a 2+/- acre site with house to his daughter. There were no objections to the subdivision, but there is a legal question as to whether the plat which must be recorded has to be prepared by a surveyor. The board received permission from the selectboard to consult town attorney Robert Fisher on the matter, but Fisher did not return an opinion in time for the hearing, which was therefore continued.

Holtz, a selectboard member and co-chair of the broadband committee, told the board of a Vermont Telecommunications Agency plan to establish a cellular service corridor along Route 112. Holtz brought the matter to the board because the plan requires setting up a microcell backup generator, ideally at the town garage. The backup system would ensure service during a power outage. The board, including member and highway supervisor Bradley Rafus, saw no reason why the system should not be located at the garage. It will include a Wi-Fi setup.

Bennett came to the meeting with a full agenda aimed at evaluating how the WRC has helped or failed to help the town in the past; determining the effectiveness of communications between the town and the WRC; discussing WRC services available to the town; and eliciting general and specific requests from the board.

Communications, which are largely facilitated by the town’s representatives to the WRC, Maggie and Nick Bartenhagen, were considered generally good. Brian McNeice expressed some frustration with trying to get specific information from WRC staff. “They just say, ‘Call the state.’ I’d like you to do that,” McNeice told Bennett.

The board welcomed suggestions from Bennett that the town could benefit from an updated culvert and bridge inventory and from a study of the Green River watershed. The WRC is currently trying to get funding for that study, which could supply useful information not contained in current flood maps.

Other topics included new requirements for a subdivision regulation, possible training needs, and implementation of the town plan, including how bylaws implement the plan and whether they need tweaking.While Bennett could not assure the board that Halifax will get a state planning grant this year, he indicated that he thinks the chances are good. The board was happy to hear that, but asked the selectboard, whose members were in attendance, for some assurance of support if the grant is denied. Some assurance was given.

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