Board dives into zoning revisions
by Margo Avakian
Apr 12, 2014 | 3001 views | 0 0 comments | 89 89 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- The planning commission plunged right in to the major task of revising Halifax’s zoning regulation and writing a subdivision regulation. Selectboard member Edee Edwards and John Bennett, of the Windham Regional Commission, contributed to the meeting as well.

Edwards, noting that the selectboard members are ex-officio members of the planning commission, offered her time, energy, and computer to the commissioners. The offer is more than welcome, commissioners indicated; Edwards will be attending meetings regularly for the duration.

Bennett, whose assistance on the project is funded by a state municipal planning grant, gave the board an overview of the process ahead to define and organize the project. The first step was to decide whether it is actually two projects.

The board has been considering subdivision regulations to be a subset of the zoning bylaw. Bennett pointed out that subdevelopment can be handled separately, and that there may be advantages to doing it that way. If sub-division is a subset of zoning, the town is “a one-acre town,” Bennett said. That means that projects involving one acre can trigger the Act 250 process. Keeping the regulations separate makes the town “a 10-acre town,” with Act 250 triggered by developments involving at least 10 acres. It’s an unexpected provision in a lengthy, detailed, and frequently-tinkered-with law. Bennett’s expertise will be invaluable in helping the board avoid potentially serious errors.

Bennett strongly advised getting the zoning bylaw, including fluvial erosion hazard regulations, done first. Ideally, a draft will be ready for the planning commission’s public hearing sometime in October, allowing the selectboard to hold its hearing before the end of the year. The goal is to have the revised bylaw ready for a vote at the 2015 Town Meeting. By the May meeting, the board will have developed what Bennett called “a laundry list of what needs fixing.” They will then organize that list into two or three sections, each to be completed in a month.

In addition to drafting the regulations, the board will be holding public informational meetings on various aspects of zoning, in hopes of getting the broadest public input possible as well as keeping the process transparent. Zoning is always a compromise between preserving individual rights and safeguarding the mutual rights of neighbors and of the community as a whole. The board hopes for substantial public input as they try to find the right balance for Halifax.

The board also began considering some specifics, such as writing a waiver provision into the regulations. This, Bennett explained, can eliminate the need to meet the almost prohibitively high bar required for a variance. “Towns have given out variances like Halloween candy, all of them subject to legal challenge,” Bennett quipped. Fluvial erosion hazard zoning was also discussed, with a brief look at models provided by the Agency of Natural Resources. Model four is the one the board will probably work from, as it would qualify the town for maximum reimbursement in the event of flood disasters. A fluvial erosion map of the Green River corridor may be ready by August, Bennett said. Eventually, similar mapping will be done along the North River. Regulations can be pegged to “the most recent” updating of such maps, preventing the need for constant revision of the regulation.

While much of the board’s attention in the next few months will go to zoning, the town’s need for a subdivision bylaw will not be forgotten. Before the next meeting, Bennett will assemble a list of towns that have passed subdivision regulations so the board can study and compare them, “rather than just reinvent the wheel,” as McNeice put it. Edwards said she will ask fellow selectboard members at the upcoming selectboard institute if they have passed such laws.

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