Howard Alboum prepared an organizational chart laying out all the steps of the planning process and the roles of the parties involved – planning commission, selectboard, and voters. Alboum stressed to his fellow commissioners the importance of a careful and organized approach to the process.
Board members agreed that the selectboard should probably not be heavily involved in the commission’s deliberations. The selectboard’s role is to study the recommended plan, decide on any changes it considers necessary, and hold a public hearing on the resulting plan. Voters will then approve or reject the plan by Australian ballot. “(That’s) under the current law,” said commission chair Christina Moore. “The current law might be defeated.” Moore was referring to the decision at the March 2009 Town Meeting to give final approval of the plan to the voters, bringing the planning process into line with the zoning process. Previously, the three-member selectboard had final say.
Board members are very anxious to get public input on revisions to the plan. The town plan embodies the policy underlying zoning regulations and is given serious weight by state bodies such as the Environmental Court and the District Environmental Commission (Act 250). Brian McNeice observed that public comment might be more easily obtained if the board plans ahead, announcing and publicizing the issue to be discussed at the following month’s meeting.
Moore agreed, and suggested that the board “structure a calendar” for the next two meetings. The first order of business at the September meeting will be a brief public hearing to regularize a two year old transaction, in which June Butler deeded a large parcel of land along Route 112 to the Humane Society of the U.S. Wildlife Land Trust. Information given to Butler by the state had indicated that no permit was necessary, even though the transaction involved a subdivision of an existing parcel. But the board felt that a permit and public hearing are required.
Although the parcel now belonging to the Wildlife Land Trust cannot be developed or used for hunting, fishing, or trapping, the smaller parcel and the building on it are not so preserved.
Moore consulted the handbook containing relevant state law and was unable to find a statutory provision that would exempt the subdivision from the permitting process. In order to prevent what Norman Fajans called “a potential problem” with the parcel not deeded to the trust, the board has scheduled a hearing for September 9, at 7 pm. The board expects that hearing to take no more than a few minutes.
Following the hearing, the commission will review discussions held last year on early sections of the plan. At the October meeting, the board hopes to begin discussion of whether a commercial zone should be established. This is a major issue, and the board expects to hear some strong views from the public.
After settling those scheduling issues, the board started a review of the plan’s statement of goals. Last year, two more goals were proposed. If adopted, those goals would read, “To encourage locally grown food,” and, “To encourage local alternative energy development.” No objection was expressed to either goal.
“I’m concerned about the (possible) loss of the school and the post office,” said Moore. Board members agreed with Moore that those two institutions are essential to preserving the town’s character as a genuine community. McNeice suggested revising goal two to include maintaining the school and post office as part of the village. Other members approved the suggestion.
Moore opined that the first paragraph of the section on managing growth accepted too easily the conception of Halifax as a bedroom community for larger local towns, whose growth is driven by the tourism industry.
She said that her own “probably unpopular” opinion is that she “would like property in town to be owned by residents.” Craig Stone thought Moore was “putting the cart before the horse. They need a place to work first.”
In the discussion that followed, members agreed that a local economy cannot be properly sustained by exclusive reliance on tourism. It was noted that, in recent years, local ski resorts have become more self‑contained, with less employment for local residents and with less business flowing to local shops and restaurants.
Stone said his observation of settlement trends indicated that new residents are more interested in settling in a rural area than in simply maintaining a pied‑a‑terre for skiing. Moore noted that local agriculture is holding its own and perhaps showing signs of a renaissance.
She cited organic dairying, orchardry, a nursery, a vineyard and winery, and local providers of agricultural and other services. “This is a foundational concept,” said Moore, and should be given prominence in the new town plan. Moore will prepare a paragraph reflecting recent changes and a policy encouraging growth and support of local enterprises for consideration at the next meeting.
In other business, the board voted to send a letter to Frank Maltese thanking him for his service on the planning and zoning boards.