2017-05-18 / Front Page

Northfield Selectboard Once Again Delays Zoning Ordinance Amendments

Staff Report
The Northfield News

The Northfield Selectboard considered the new town zoning bylaw amendments last week. New Zoning Administrator Stephen Hatch addressed the board and said that at the second public hearing the Select Board held on this matter Development Review Board (DRB) Chair William Smith provided a number of suggested changes to the draft amendments. These included eliminating building height restrictions in high-density zones as well as the relaxation of parking space requirements attached to new construction.

Mr. Hatch reported the Planning Commission [PC] has decided not to incorporate the DRB suggestions into the draft amendments submitted for Select Board approval.

Selectman Nate Freeman said that he is disappointed that the PC did not fully consider the DRB suggestions. He would like to table approval of the proposed zoning bylaw amendments until the next regular Selectboard meeting on May 23 so that the reasons behind this decision can be clarified.

He added that despite the public input provided at the two public hearings held by the Selectboard, there have been no changes made to the document that was first presented in January of this year.

Selectman David Maxwell asked what would result from this two week delay and Selectman Freeman said that a final draft, which may or may not include the DRB suggestions, could be prepared for final approval.

Mr. Hatch warned if any “substantive” changes were made in the document, the whole process including the holding public hearings would need to be restarted.

Selectman Freeman said that he doesn’t mild any slight delay if it results in a more business-friendly document being approved.

Chair Kenny Goslant said that he believes that the Selectboard is allowed to make minor changes without restarting the approval process.

Town Manager Jeff Schulz said that he does not believe that the DRB requested changes fall under the category of “substantive.” In addition, the DRB always has the ability to grant variances on a case-by-case basis.

Selectman

Freeman said that the board should not forget that he would like to see Northfield Falls

reclassified as a high-density zone since it is possible that the area will be hooked up to municipal sewer in coming years.

Selectman Lynn Doney said that he is leary of further delays and is ready to approve the current version tonight.

Arlington Supplee who has served on the Planning Commission since April 2005,

said it was the consensus of the PC at its last meeting that the DRB suggestions should not be considered this late in the process. Otherwise, the whole document should be reopened for revision and the approval process started anew. One PC member has a number of other concerns with the document but does not want the PC to return to square one given how long the previous PC members worked on the current draft.

He said that the PC also looked into the possibility of rezoning Northfield Falls as high-density but felt there were serious clean water issues until the area is connected to the municipal sewer system. This was a recommendation from the Conservation Commission early in the drafting process.

Mr. Supplee noted the DRB can provide variances should a developer plan to build in the area with no clean water issues involved. He said that he personally did not agree with the PC consensus to return the document back to the Selectboard without changes but he felt he should abide with the will of the majority.

Selectman Freeman pointed out that the map attached to the proposed zoning bylaw

amendments shows Northfield Falls as a high-density area.

Mr. Hatch said this map was wrong and will be corrected.

Selectman Freeman felt having inaccurate information attached to the document presented for public review undermined the approval process.

Selectman Maxwell is willing to table approval of the proposed bylaw amendments until

the next regular Select Board meeting in two weeks provided that only non-substantive changes are made to the document. However, since he does not want any further delays, there also must be an up or down vote at that time.

Manager Schulz said he will need to work with the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission (CVRPC) to determine whether any proposed changes are substantive. This is a gray area in state law so he would like to consult the experts, he added.

Like Selectman Maxwell, Selectman Doney will accept a two-week delay provided a decision is made at the next meeting. He felt this matter has dragged on long enough and he would like DRB Chair Smith at this meeting.

Mr. Hatch said that he has no strong feelings about the DRB suggestions but would like the current outdated regulations replaced as soon as possible.

In other matters, Manager Schulz reported the Utility Commissions met last night and finalized the utility budgets for the next fiscal year. Although there had been concerns that the loss of a major water customer (Chouinard’s Comfort Colors) would result in a rate increase, this did not happen due to use of previous year surplus funds. Also, expenses were kept down and revenues were higher than expected.

Manager Schulz said that he will provide more details when the budgets are formally presented to the Selectboard.

Chair Goslant, who serves on the Water & Wastewater Commission, confirmed that $90,000 in surplus funds were used to prevent rate increases. He added the expansion of Norwich University campus facilities did provide some buffer for the loss of Chouinard’s.

He said that all the utility departments are in very good financial condition and Northfield’s rates are quite low compared to those in other Vermont communities. There are some long-term concerns about upcoming state and federal renewable energy and stormwater diversion

requirements that will be phased in over the next few years. This may lead to increased

operating costs.

Manager Schulz added that the operating license for the Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF) is up for renewal in 2020 so new stormwater and other regulations may require major upgrades. Fortunately, the stormwater diversion projects already completed (or in the works) have had a positive impact in reducing the amount of stormwater reaching the WWTF.

Manager Schulz said a pre-bid meeting was held recently relative to the Water Street Park and was well attended by potential contractors. A question was asked where the displaced earth could be stored during the project. The municipality’s pit off Cemetery Street was suggested but Manager Schulz does not want too many truckloads of dirt travelling through this dense neighborhood. He would like the bulk of material stored at alternate sites to be determined later.

The Town Manager also said that a new labor agreement with the Police Union is pretty much complete. It now is being reviewed again by management before being forwarded to the Select Board for its approval.

In addition, the NPD radar speed trailer will be placed in Northfield Falls soon. There

have been a number of complaints about drivers speeding through the Vermont Route

12/Cox Brook Road intersection and crosswalk.  He said that since this is a state highway, some paperwork must be completed first. If the need is demonstrated, speed limits in the

area may be reduced. Selectman Doney believes that the recent increase in NPD presence on the roads already has resulted in less speeding throughout the community.

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