Board approves zoning changes
by Jack Deming
Nov 30, 2013 | 2881 views | 0 0 comments | 88 88 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- The selectboard held a public meeting last Wednesday night to gather opinion on an overhaul of the town’s zoning definitions, ordinance, and district map, a project that has been in the works for nearly 15 years. While residents, business owners, and property owners all attended the meeting and voiced their concerns, the selectboard decided to approve the document directly following the public meeting, passing the responsibility of making substantial changes back to the planning commission that conceived the document.

The selectboard made no changes to the bylaws, clearing the way for them to become legally binding on December 11, replacing the original bylaws written in 1968. “It’s a great accomplishment,” said zoning administrator Alice Herrick. “There have been minor updates to zoning over the years, but just enough to keep the town current and deal with spot issues.”

Other than the creation of two new districts on the zoning map, perhaps the biggest change to the town’s zoning is the reduction of setbacks in the village district from 40 feet to zero. “Forty-foot setbacks on all those tiny lawns kills development,” said Herrick. “Smaller setbacks should give a lot of relief without changing the character of the district.”

While the selectboard approved the bylaws as is, unsubstantial changes can still be made to the document such as the correction of typos and mislabeled items. Substantial changes, which include the concerns of some of the attendees of the public meeting, will be the responsibility of the planning commission. If substantial changes were to be made to the bylaws in the future, the planning commission and selectboard would be required to hold public meetings to discuss and approve changes. Herrick sees this as part of the process, and believes that having the new bylaws in place is essential at this point. “With a document this big, and with so many changes, it wouldn’t surprise me if we find places in the next few months where we need to go back and make a fix,” said Herrick.

Rental property owner and executive director of the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce Adam Grinold voiced his concerns over the bylaws’ language pertaining to landscaping. Grinold said that language in Article III, section 320, was far too vague, and would give those seeking a permit no indication of how much money they’d be required to spend. The bylaw reads, “Landscaping and screening to protect adjacent properties shall be required for commercial uses and may be required for residential uses. Additional tree planting may be required in instances where such planting is needed to visually interrupt the portion of structures visible from defined vantage points. All reasonable efforts shall be made to minimize the visibility of development from the road and adjoining properties.”

Grinold says that the bylaw is not specific enough pertaining to rules on landscaping. “Anyone going in to get an application is at the mercy of the process and can be slapped with a huge landscaping fee they didn’t expect,” said Grinold. “I don’t know how a development review board could consistently apply that in a fair way. The DRB can add significant cost at their whim by deciding to require an elevation. That would require an architect and a professional design landscape plan but the bylaw doesn’t say what triggers that, and as a possible applicant I don’t know what to expect.”

Grinold was also concerned about the bylaw’s rules pertaining to off-street parking. The new bylaws say for residential dwellings, two parking spaces are required per unit, and lodging requires one-and-a-half spaces per guest bedroom. Offices and multi-business centers require one parking space for every 400 square feet, while retail businesses require one per 200 square feet, and restaurants and entertainment venues require one space per three persons permitted for occupancy.

Grinold said this could curtail the ability of someone to open a business or build a home. “The parking requirements and the density requirements seem in conflict. If you have a one-acre lot, you don’t know if you can put in a building and a parking space and meet density (requirements).” Density in commercial/residential districts allows a maximum of 25% lot coverage for commercial uses.

DRB chair Nicki Steel took issue with the bylaws’ lack of height requirements outside the village district. Steel sees this as a possible hazard for firefighters in town. “A permitted use such as a single-family dwelling could be built with no regard to any height restriction,” said Steel. “It certainly would be possible that its height could extend beyond the reach of fire equipment.”

Steel also took issue with a number of the bylaws’ rules pertaining to setbacks, saying that having zero setbacks in the village district will create problems with property lines, and would create problems with snow falling from roofs. Also, Steel thought it was not necessary to create setbacks for small structures such as garden sheds. “On smaller lots it may be that there would be no place where a small shed could even meet setbacks,” said Steel.

Another concern of Steel’s was what she noted as different standards for conditional use and permitted use. In a list of concerns to the board, Steel pointed out that in the commercial/residential district the required lot frontage for residential use is 150 feet while for commercial use it’s 300 feet. “If a residential use wanted to change to commercial use but didn’t have the required 300-foot frontage I do not believe they could change. This will really inhibit the changing of uses and buildings,” said Steel.

Multiple members of the public supported the selectboard’s decision to pass the bylaws, citing the years of work that had been dedicated to their crafting. Members of the selectboard voiced the same sentiment. “I read that through and through,” said vice chair Jim Burke. “I think the document is well put together and we’ve been holding off a long time. This isn’t in concrete yet, but having a better document in place now would help. It can be tweaked.”

Board members Diane Chapman and Susie Haughwout verbally agreed. “It gets the olives rolling out of the bottle,” said Haughwout. “That notwithstanding, I like perfect things. This is not perfect, but it’s better then the zoning from 1968.”

Planning commission member Lynne Matthews said that the document should be adopted and that the planning commission would be ready to work on substantial issues. “My understanding is if this is approved tonight we’re not going to disappear,” said Matthews. “We’re going to start all over again with people coming into the planning commission who say ‘This is why I don’t like this section.’ We can make individual changes in the document. We’ll continue what we’ve been doing in the past 17 years.”

Steel meanwhile asked that the selectboard consider reviewing and making the substantial changes now, and warn a new public meeting in the near future. “We waited so many years,” said Steel. “I would wait another month because I’m afraid if it gets passed exactly the way it is, it drags out and there are changes that need to be made. If you warrant a new meeting, it can be done in January.”

The selectboard unanimously agreed to approve the zoning bylaws, with board chair Meg Streeter recusing herself during approval of the district map.

Those who want to make changes to the zoning bylaws as passed can write a proposal to the planning commission, which can then decide to take up the matter or not. “ It’s probably a more efficient way to do it,” said Herrick. “It’s not a perfect document, but we needed to adopt it and can go back later and put a fix in.

“I would hope the planning commission would be responsive to public comment.”
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