I would first like to commend John Whitman for his dedicated efforts to compile a very thorough document and presentation for last Wednesday night’s selectboard meeting. The board had no interest in hearing what he had to say, but reluctantly agreed as long as he was not asking about specific violations that had previously been deemed “closed.”
These issues have lingered since the petition to abolish zoning was submitted in 2014. They remained unresolved for almost three years when last fall the selectboard met with the ZA and issued a directive to have the 27 issues resolved by February 1. They wanted the files to be updated in compliance with the ZA’s handbook of procedures, present bylaws, with written communications and final decisions with reasons. The ZA soon resigned and the responsibility fell back on the chairperson of the selectboard by statute. Another eight violations were reported in Nov 2016, now totaling 35 violations and only two voluntary permits were received, leaving 33 unresolved to date.
A review of the files, showed nothing in any parcel file. The acting ZA pledged to have the files done by February 1, as originally scheduled. On February 8, it was reported the files were completed. A review of files on February 10 was extremely disappointing as the only paper in the file had just the Parcel ID #, owner, alleged violation listed along with the findings on most of them as “owner contacted, no violation, closed” and no supporting documents as promised. No one even knows what communications the previous ZA had with parcel owners after the undocumented decisions were made. The explanation was they only were able to access the previous ZA’s final decision and none of the communications between parties, results of site visits and reasons for the decision were available. A very suspect result considering 95% of these issues were and still are obvious violations.
Come to find out there was no paper trail of any contact with any owners. Several owners reported getting a letter that stated something like, “it has come to my attention you may have a violation on your property. It was reported by and due to the rural nature of the town I can not visit the property. Please call me if you have questions.” It’s apparent most found the garbage.
Admittedly, not a single site visit was done and I find it virtually impossible to conduct effective zoning without verifying the violation prior to initiating communication with the owner. Basically, the town was asking for voluntary compliance with no intent to persue any violations if their requests were ignored.
Permit filings generate revenue (fees) which are used to pay the ZA, but without permit fees coming in the salary is paid directly from taxes raised and the taxpayer sees no benefit as we are taxed for a service that gets no results.
At the end of the meeting the ZA stated they would be contacting the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to ask if they had an obligation or be required to re-open the investigations based on how they were originally handled? The phrasing of the question indicated to me they were looking for VLCT to provide them with an excuse to do nothing further, ( keeping them swept under the carpet,) when in fact if they actually supported zoning by all their comments and promises of the last three years, they should be supplying VLCT all the history and then ask them how the town can legally retract the decisions so they can revisit them to insure they are done correctly and fairly to all.
Why when commenting at hearings when zoning was petitioned to be abolished, was zoning so important that Readsboro could not be without it, but we still have not had effective zoning since 2010 ( not one violation issued ) and only require voluntary compliance?
The integrity and respect for the zoning process and the confidence in those responsible to carry it out has been lost.