Select board public hearing continues and an email causes a stir

Town Hall, Chester, Vt.

CHESTER, Vt. – At the third public hearing for the new Unified Development Bylaws (UDB), Article two continued to receive the most public comment. With many townspeople in attendance there was a range of the opinion over the new UDB’s.  Every opinion has merit and good ideas have been brought forward on how the town can move ahead economically but also keeping in line with Chester’s character.

Attendees requested better definitions for certain occupations and items in the document so that there would be no room for personal interpretation.

One question asked was how the new bylaws address a property line that straddles two districts. When this case occurs the new UDB will apply to where the structure resides, not the property line.

One solution presented to the select board, in reference to R120, was to accept the new UDB’s but keep the conditional use (meaning standards can be applied to an applicant’s permit) for R120 as written in the 2014 UDB’s.

However, it was noted that the roads and bridges in R120 would not be able to accommodate the weight load of tracker trailer and dump trucks. Would allowing the 2014 conditional use bylaw in this area later increase the need for road and bridge repair?

Article three does not propose changes, as some had thought, to the previous home business or home occupation bylaws.

Michael Normyle, the Zoning Administrator, clarified that there is no movement to restrict or move out a person whose occupation is a painter or plumber that drives their own vehicle for business. However, if this business increases to where there were trailers, excavators and many employees then the business would become subject to conditional use. Therefore, Normyle asks business owners seeking a permit to give their business plan in writing. Not only does this help the owner solidify their business model but also gives Normyle the opportunity to reference their plan against the bylaws to check if a conditional use needs to be instated.

In the proposed UDB’s the Planning Commission has tightened up the language regarding unfinished buildings. This will allow the Development Review Board and the select board to have a document to reference when needing to force the applicant to take actions in addressing uncompleted buildings.

The UDB’s are a living document hence perfection is not the goal but progress. The process has been lengthy and although it has brought the community to work together to make Chester the best location possible, it is time for the next step. Selectman Ben Whalen made a motion to move the UDB’s forward to the next meeting for the select board to vote on the document.

The select board will vote at the next meeting whether they are going to send the document back to the Planning Commission for edits or adopt the UDB as they stand.

Unfortunately, after a tense and heated meeting on Feb. 28, the Planning Commission recently decreased in members, not enough for a quorum- the minimum number of voting members available in order to conduct business. Sending the UDB’s back for edits would be delayed until a quorum can be establish.

Everyone wants the same thing, a successful town where people will live, work and play. The bylaws are not perfect but can there be a compromise? With this thought, Kelly Arrison took the initiative to find that compromise by contacting Jason Rasmussen, the Director of Planning on staff at the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission, regarding the possibility of a workshop on how to develop layover districts.

The select board members appreciated his leadership and willingness to find a compromise, but their concern was over the possible singling out of one select board member as Arrison’s email appeared to suggest. His full email can be viewed below.

Arrison’s motive was pure but some felt the way in which it was conducted did not follow policy. Soon the attention volleyed back onto the select board when a member of the audience asked which select board member did Arrison speak to.

The select board chose to not answer the question.

Later, after some of the tension from Arrison’s email died down, the town hall filled with applause after Barre Pinske thanked John DeBenedetti for his years of service on the Chester select board; Wednesday, March 1 was DeBenedetti’s last meeting.

Town manager, David Pisha, informed the public that the next stage in the Chester Master Plan will be held at the Newsbank Conference Center on March 12 from 1 – 4 p.m. The community workshop, presented by the SE Group, will be showing drawings and vignettes created from the community input from previous events. Light refreshments will be provided. The creation of a vibrant town core will benefit everyone; whether you live in town or own a business this workshop needs your feedback. It is your town and your community.

The next select board meeting will be Wednesday, March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Chester Town Hall.

Email from Kelly Arrison sent on Thursday, February 23, 2017 2:04 p.m.

To: Jason Rasmussen


Good afternoon Jason,

I’ve read the zoning information you provided. Thank you.

As per our recent conversation, I’m seeking to organize an educational/training session specifically on overlay zoning for a group in Chester. I’ve spoken to a member of the Planning Commission and a member of the Select Board and one or both are willing to contact you once you and I can articulate a plan.

Here are my thoughts on the meeting: Attendees would consist of two Select Board Members, two Planning Commission members, two from the DRB, and four citizens.

The issue for which we are trying to find a compromise solution is this:

Over a period of time about four individual business owners came to the PC with non-conforming use plans for their property. In order to accommodate these requests the PC added several conditional uses to the proposed UDBs in most zones of Chester. Other property owners, while largely not objecting to the businesses themselves, have maintained that in order to accommodate individual entities the newly added conditional uses place nearly all properties in Chester at risk of types of development not previously allowed.

Several speakers have suggested that Zoning Overlays may provide a compromise solution and satisfy the wishes of most of the businesses without putting other properties in their zones at risk. The idea is now being more widely discussed but, in my view, there is not enough local expertise to pursue this solution properly. Professional training of interested parties, and a facilitator who can keep things organized and on track, are needed in a timely manner.

Can your agency, perhaps in concert with VLCT,  provide some or all of these services? Your thoughts on how to organize this in the near future?

Again, once a proposal for this takes shape someone from a Chester Board will take the lead.

Thank you for your time,

Kelly Arrison



Email from Jason Rasmussen responding to Kelly Arrison

Hi Kelly,

I would be happy to respond to a request for a training from town staff or the Selectboard or Planning Commission.  I think the best thing is to have a few questions or topics that people want answers to accompanying the request, and then we can see what we can do from there.  Hopefully, it is something that we can do relatively easily and at no charge to the Town.  VLCT is also very good at educational programming.  I think they often charge a small fee.

A few options to consider might be:

1. I think I will be attending a future Planning Commission meeting(s) regarding the Town Plan.  The town plan update might be a great time to reconsider how future development should take place in town and to form a basis in the plan for future/additional zoning changes.  I think this presents an opportunity to discuss what is working, what is not, and how to move forward.  Zoning is supposed to be consistent with the town plan, so this is probably the best time to think about changes.

2. A zoning 101-type presentation could touch on the basics and answer questions about zoning districts, overlay districts, special use standards and other options.  I think the Planning Commission is now focusing on the Town Plan, so whether the time is right for that discussion I don’t know.

3. Similar to #2 above, we could have a discussion about how to implement a town plan, reviewing both regulatory and non-regulatory options.  This could be organized to answer a few key questions (e.g. overlay districts), as desired.

4.We will be scheduling a regional “planning essentials” training in the near future, but that may not answer the questions discussed below.  However, once we organize that, I can get information out about that event.

I hope this is helpful.

Regardless of a training session, I am happy to field questions regarding planning or zoning.  Feel free to contact me.



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