ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Rockingham Selectboard appointed Development Director Gary Fox as Interim Planning and Zoning Administrator. Chuck Wise vacated his position as Planning, Zoning, and Health Officer of Rockingham after Christmas.
Municipal Manager Scott Pickup asked VT League of Cities & Towns (VLCT) for guidance, and Rockingham reserves the right to appoint someone for up to one year. He suggested Fox as Interim Planning and Zoning. Pickup said as a shared position of zoning and health it “created conflicts and difficulty on the enforcing end as well as administration and zoning requirements, it was difficult to do all three well.” He indicated that was not a reflection on Wise, but the reality. Pickup suggested prioritizing the zoning administrator and hiring a health officer part-time.
Chair Peter Golec said Shaun McGinnis was Deputy Health Officer, Village President Deborah Wright expressed concern of adding to his current duties as Village Fire Chief.
Board member Rick Cowan asked about the town website. Board member Bonnie North volunteered again to teach staff how to manage and update the website.
Golec had concerns with the appointment of Fox and his workload. Fox explained when Pickup discussed it with him, he had called places like White River to ask questions about their combined office. He said it’s “typical for planning and development to work jointly together, there is a lot of overlap.”
Fox said the development office has ramped up projects and grant applications with Betsy Thurston assisting with administration pieces. He explained each successful grant application added more work, but structurally they were positioned to take on the role.
North agreed that planning with development made sense, but was concerned about zoning and the constant flow of applications. Fox said that Wise had automated much of the functionality and for now it was workable, but said the picture could change in the spring.
Fox said with the current and future work on the Area Wide Plan, Island, and Under the Hill projects, the departments had many ongoing permits they were working on together. He said he “appreciated Chuck’s work” and saw the offices working well together moving forward. Fox said that working as an interim “will provide insight into the departments to keep them cohesively working together.”
Fox referred to the work being done by Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG) and the necessary zoning bylaw adjustments for the future. A recent grant application has been submitted for the Modernization Bylaw Grant through the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Pickup said by appointing Fox this gave the town the opportunity to continue holding meetings and supporting the Development Review Board (DRB) and Planning Commission (PC) while they began the hiring process.
Vice-Chair Susan Hammond asked about the revision of the town plan scheduled for 2023. Wright, also the PC Chair, said they were at the end of the polishing piece, but still had the introduction, maps, and links. She said there was a lot of input necessary for the zoning administrator, and once the town plan was complete the next step was the zoning bylaws. She said Wise took the minutes.
Golec said, “the information needs to be ready for the board ahead of time, it can’t be done the night of the meeting.”
Board member Elijah Zimmer asked if there were any other options. Pickup said they could leave the position vacant and cancel meetings.
The board appointed Fox as Interim Zoning Administrator. Cowan thanked Wise for his work over the years.
The Rockingham Selectboard meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 3 will have the final articles for the warning, budget, and tax rate. The meeting will be in the lower theater of the Bellows Falls Opera Ho