Reporting to the selectboard on his conversations with the secretary of state’s office and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Fajans said the VLCT’s staff attorney had advised that at least one step, the planning commission hearing, is not needed for readoption of an existing plan. The commission, having reviewed the present plan, may simply recommend its readoption to the selectboard. The selectboard would then need to hold a public hearing on the plan.
“No, we don’t!” interjected board member Mitchell Green. Green and board member Lewis Sumner began discussing whether there has been a rule change on the point. “Let me finish!” said Fajans.
After repeating that the VLCT attorney had advised that the selectboard hearing is required, Fajans went on to say that the Windham Regional Commission had advised Brian McNeice that the planning commission should follow the process from the beginning, including holding its own hearing. The secretary of state’s office had simply referred Fajans to the VLCT.
Christina Moore, planning commission chair, asked Fajans whether letting the plan expire while working on possible changes would have negative consequences for the town. Consequences would be minimal, Fajans said. According to the VLCT, “anything (that came up) would refer back to the old plan even if it was expired.” However, continued Fajans, no changes could be made in the by‑laws or capital budget while the plan was expired. For that reason, Fajans recommended readoption. “We don’t have a capital budget,” said Green, and the board agreed that no proposed changes in the by‑laws are in the offing.
Jesse Ferlin asked why the plan had been “allowed to get so close to lapsing.” Moore explained that the planning commission, which had been about a third of the way through its revision process, had set the plan aside for several months in order to deal with zoning board business. The same group of people serves on both boards.
“The trigger point” for the commission’s concerns, said Moore, was the town meeting vote giving final authority on the plan to the voters. “If we readopt it,” said Sumner, “we need to vote.”
“As of March 3,” agreed Green, “we (the selectboard) can no longer adopt.”
The Town Meeting vote to adopt the town plan by Australian ballot does not, however, change the requirement for public hearings, according to state statutes. It has no effect on the planning commission’s process, nor does it remove the selectboard’s authority to make any changes it deems desirable in the plan presented by the commission.
“What we are basically hoping,” summed up board chair John LaFlamme, “is that there are no consequences, and we can let it lapse until the next Town Meeting.” “Have you considered consulting your attorney?” asked Ferlin. “The VLCT has attorneys,” replied Green.
Board secretary Phyllis Evanuk, consulting the relevant regulations, said it appears that as long as the town is working on the plan and can finish within a year, there is no need to hold a vote right away. Further, said Evanuk, “the town should still be eligible for grants” to assist in preparing the plan.
Moore said she would prefer to spend the next two months working on revising the plan, rather than preparing for readoption and then resuming work on possible changes.
“Waste of time! Waste of time!” said Green.
LaFlamme asked Moore if the commission could finish its proposed revisions by sometime next fall. “Probably,” Moore said. “We would love to see people come to give the commission their opinions, particularly on the question of creating a commercial and industrial zone in the town.” Green said he thought the town had voted to have a commercial district.
LaFlamme reminded Green that there had been no vote, just a lengthy discussion on the need to clarify what constituted “light industrial” and commercial uses currently permitted in the rural residential zone. “It was a public hearing (on zoning),” said Fajans, adding that the planning commission had recommended some rules on those uses, but “you guys took it out.”
Just as the board had reached a tentative decision to skip formal readoption and get a revised plan in place for the next Town Meeting, highway commissioner Bradley Rafus caused a momentary panic. “If we don’t have a town plan in place,” said Rafus, the town would lose 20% of its state highway grant. But LaFlamme said work on those grants is normally completed in April.
The board agreed to hold a work session on Tuesday, March 31, at 7 pm, to deal with highway grants, budget issues, and the FEMA process. LaFlamme reported that the board has looked at seven different work orders resulting from the December ice storm. FEMA, LaFlamme said, will reimburse the town for 75% of those costs. “There are only a couple steps more for approval,” he said.
In other business, the board made a number of appointments to town offices. Howard Alboum and Frank Maltese were reappointed to the planning commission and zoning board. Sirean LaFlamme will replace Allan Dacey on those boards. Current holders of almost all other positions were reappointed for the coming year.
The board will hold off on appointing a zoning administrator until its next meeting. Green nominated Rick Miruki, the acting ZA, for that position, but there was no second. LaFlamme read out the recommendation from the planning commission that Rick Gay be reappointed if he wishes to continue in the position. Gay has told LaFlamme that he is interested. Sumner expressed some reservations but nominated Gay anyway.
Ultimately, the board decided to invite both men to the next meeting for a discussion.