Sticky issues for the planning commission
by Margo Avakian
Oct 11, 2012 | 1529 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- The planning commission, meeting without chair Howard Alboum or secretary Phyllis Evanuk, wrestled with areas of uncertainty as it considered applications for two very different projects, one traditional in nature and one rather innovative.

Malcolm Sumner wants to subdivide his farm so as to deed a house and modest parcel of land to his daughter. The only obstacle to approval seems to be a dispute over whether the plat submitted by Sumner must be the result of a formal survey.

Sumner contends that no survey is legally required. He told the board on Tuesday that he has “talked to the head of the district two subdivision of the state.” She told him, Sumner said, that a survey is not absolutely required for a legally acceptable plat. Sumner also distributed highlighted copies of the town’s application for subdivision approval and of the instructions for the applicant, along with a copy of relevant state statute. Those documents give no indication that a survey is required. Zoning administrator Rick Gay confirmed that is the case.

“I still don’t think I need a survey,” Sumner declared, “and until you can show me a law that says I do, I’m not going to do it.”

Acting chair John Brimmer told Sumner that town attorney Robert Fisher advised the board that it is obliged to require a survey. Sumner expressed the opinion that Fisher “hasn’t done his homework” and again asked what law required a formal survey. Brimmer said the board would pass the documents presented by Sumner to Fisher and ask for further review of the question. Meanwhile, the hearing is again continued.

Discussion continued briefly after Sumner’s departure. Linda Smith argued strongly that subdividing a lot and recording the subdivision are two distinct issues. “You can subdivide it (without a survey), but you can’t record it.” That raises the issue of 24 V.S.A. 4463 (b), which states, “The approval of the appropriate municipal panel shall expire 180 days from that approval or certification unless, within that 180-day period, that plat shall have been duly filed or recorded in the office of the clerk of the municipality.”

Is it the duty of the board to withhold approval on the grounds that the subdivision cannot be recorded without a survey? Or is it up to the town clerk to require a survey? Just which statute requires a survey for a plat to be recordable? Commissioners will ask Fisher for the answers.

Proceedings on the application for changes to the Abbott’s Glen campground have been delayed due to Evanuk’s absence. Sirean LaFlamme told the board that Evanuk notified her by email that she expects to have the findings from last month’s deliberative session completed by the end of the week. The Abbotts were present, as they had not been notified of the delay, and there was informal discussion of the project.

The board has expressed strong reservations about Lindy Abbott’s plan to allow a few members to build and own seasonal camps on land that would remain Abbott’s. Smith, Brian McNiece, and others felt the plan would, in effect, convert the campground to a mobile home park. But, as Abbott pointed out, the proposed structures are not homes but primitive seasonal camps. There are legal limits on the number of days per year and the number of consecutive days such camps can be occupied.

Abbott obtained an Act 250 permit for his project before approaching the planning commission. But LaFlamme said that her reading of the Act 250 findings did not show the cabins listed among the approved features. McNiece agreed that the state permit does not address the issue of the cabins’ ownership.

The board is primarily wary of wading into an ill-defined, or undefined, area of development law. As LaFlamme repeatedly stated, “We don’t want to set a precedent.” A decision by the board in its quasi-judicial capacity might have genuine weight as a legal precedent, and the board members are determined to proceed carefully here.

Meeting as the zoning board of adjustment, the board held a very brief hearing on a request for a variance to build a deck. Supporting letters from two neighbors were read into the record, and the board held its deliberative session on the matter at the end of the evening.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
No Comments Yet

Comment Policy

In an effort to promote reasoned discussion, transparency, and integrity in online commenting, The Deerfield Valley News requires anyone posting comments to identify themselves using their real name. Anonymous commenting will not be allowed. All comments will be subject to approval before posting, and may take up to 24 hours for approval to be granted.

We encourage civil discourse among readers, and ask that they be willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. No personal harassment or hate speech will be tolerated. Please be succinct and to the point. For longer comments, please consider submitting a letter to the editor instead. It will appear in both the print and online editions.

All comments will be reviewed, and we reserve the right to reject, edit or remove any comment for any reason. For questions or to express concerns feel free to contact our office at (802) 464-3388.