Chester talks community gardens and rental registry

The majority of the meeting focused on the Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens (CCGG) bid for town land, and the Short-Term Rental (STR) ordinance.

CHESTER, Vt. – At the three hour Chester Selectboard meeting on Oct. 19, the board passed few actual motions, but did discuss several ideas about the future of big projects in the town. The majority of the meeting focused on the Chester Community Greenhouse and Gardens (CCGG) bid for town land, and the Short-Term Rental (STR) ordinance.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board heard from CCGG president Cheryl Joy Lipton, who implored the selectboard to make a decision on the Canal Street land parcel in town, a plot that the CCGG has attempted to secure for their community garden project. The CCGG approached the selectboard in June 2022 to ask for the land, but a request for more details was made before any further movement would be approved. Board member Lee Gustafson asked Lipton at the Oct. 19 meeting if details for the future of the garden had been drawn up, to which Lipton responded that she could do so, “But it [would] take more time.” In response to Chester resident Tim Roper describing plans for a community garden as “fluid,” the board decided that they would write up a simple lease, mostly for liability reasons, for the garden, and wait for a surveyor to establish the boundaries of the Canal Street plot, before approving the land for use by the CCGG. “Though it’s a small step,” said Board Chair Arne Jonynas, “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

The conversation on housing was split into two agenda items: a general discussion on housing and a continued conversation regarding the STR ordinance. Town Manager Julie Hance started by describing some of the ideas that have come up at meetings and conferences she’s attended recently. These ideas ranged from the building of developments or “new neighborhoods” in Chester, to cutting water and sewage fees for apartment owners working on Accessory Dwelling Units. The board approved Hance to go ahead with the establishment of a Housing Committee, which will be able to oversee development in town.

The board pushed a decision on the STR ordinance until the next meeting, citing a need to have it reviewed by a lawyer first. While the ordinance has not yet been approved, several board members expressed support for collecting data on STRs, with Jonynas saying, “I look back to this document and it’s not actually that much. It’s just asking for a registration.”

That being said, the topic did inspire more conversation at the meeting, with multiple residents stepping forward to share their views on the potential registry. One citizen asked about how long a STR owner had to correct rental violations if any were found, to which Preston Bristow, Chester Zoning Administrator, answered that those decisions are left up to the state, the ones who will be making the inspections. Other residents continued to question the necessity of a rental registry, one going so far as to call the data collection company Granicus “Orwellian.” On the other side of the issue, a resident pointed to the dwindling number of affordable dwellings in Chester, stating that “young families cannot buy houses here.”

The next Chester Selectboard meeting will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the Chester Town Hall.

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