CHESTER, Vt. – Despite some public concerns, the Select Board voted to approve its new ordinance for regulating salvage yards and junk stored on properties.
Last week the board continued a public discussion about the new junk storage ordinance, inviting town attorney Jim Carroll to field questions raised by selectmen and residents during the ordinance’s first reading in May.
The ordinance requires salvage yards to acquire town certification in order to operate, whereby previously the proprietor only needed state certification. The ordinance also establishes guidelines for storing junk items and vehicles on all properties, including residential, and the town’s procedures and penalties to address violations.
The board reiterated that its intent is strictly to remove junk that compromises public health and safety, including to the environment or creating visual or physical obstructions for drivers. The board also restated its intent to apply the ordinance flexibility and with discretion to cooperate with property owners to resolve the issues.
“We don’t want to use this as a stick to beat them up and throw fines at them,” said Board Chair Arne Jonynas. “We’re just concerned about the safety and the public good.”
The town has made previous attempts to pass a junk ordinance but failed. The board said that renewed grievances by citizens prompted the board to take action.
“While I wish we could not adopt something like this, I don’t feel we’re in a position where that is an option,” said selectman Lee Gustafson.
While the ordinance gives the town a range of options and penalties to enforce the ordinance, including fines and judicial action, the board reiterated that it intends to only follow the spirit of the ordinance, which is to clean up unsafe properties and cooperate with owners. The board also intends to limit the ordinance’s application to its purpose for health and safety, rather than a means to target the aesthetics of properties.
However, some citizens still expressed worry about future officials straying from the ordinance’s original intent
Resident Derek Suursoo said that while this board may apply a flexible interpretation of the ordinance, future boards may not, and the ordinance’s language does not provide such a safeguard.
Jonynas admitted that possibility but also pointed out that change can impact all laws, as well as communities and governing bodies.
Suursso asked if the language could add specificity to define a salvage yard. Suursso said that otherwise a governing body could potentially require property owners storing small amounts of junk to acquire unnecessary certification.
Carroll admitted that language interpretation is always a potential problem but unpreventable. “The problem with defining junk is there is no way to articulate it,” Carroll said about the subjectivity of the term “junk” and the impossibility to create a perfect list of items.
The board said they anticipate having to make minor revisions to the ordinance over time, but felt confident about the tool it provides the town moving forward.
“I think we can go with it and always tweak it later,” said Vice-Chair Heather Chase. “I don’t think the first pass is necessarily going to be perfection.”