Chester hears bylaws amendments and Police review

The Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 Chester Selectboard heard from the Planning Commission and Col. Jim Baker. Photo provided

CHESTER, Vt. – The Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 Chester Selectboard meeting focused largely on two agenda items: An amendment to Unified Development Bylaws (UDB) and a Police Department Assessment Review by Col. Jim Baker.

The meeting began with a public hearing, in which members of the Planning Commission discussed possible amendments to the UDB which would allow for the re-purposing of certain buildings within the town of Chester, as long as that new purpose was compatible with the character of the area. Because of zoning laws adopted over the years, certain areas of the town are not, or no longer, accessible to commercial businesses, such as the area around Baba A Louis, which closed in 2018. However, these new amendments would allow for a new business to open in regions like that area, as long as it could be argued that, historically, a restaurant, such as Baba A Louis, has done well there and been a welcome addition to the town. These new bylaws would be called Legacy and Adaptive Re-Use bylaws.

The selectboard, after listening to the amendments described by the Planning Commission, decided to postpone a decision on the bylaws until further notice. “I’m all for 90% of this,” said Board Chair Arne Jonynas, “it just might take a little while.”

A majority of the second half of the meeting was dedicated to hearing the Police Department Assessment Review by Col. Jim Baker, who has been working on the review for a series of months. Originally, talks to undergo a department assessment came after a black man named Obadiah Jacobs was, according to Vermont’s Human Rights Commission, discriminated against and illegally told to exit his vehicle at gunpoint by a Chester police officer in May 2019. Baker completed his review in September of this year. The full review is not currently available on the Town of Chester’s website at this time.

The full report is detailed, reading at 28 pages, and describes Baker’s methodology, findings, and conclusions. In the report, he writes, “Often times the providing of public safety can be seen or in practice [be] an us versus them dynamic.” He goes on to discuss how relations between the public and a police department can often times be strained, and how the role of the police is changing as of recent years. According to Baker, in his review of the Chester Department, there is a clear undercurrent among some of the officers that there is a lack of “someone having their back.” This could be because of nationwide issues, Baker explained. This being said, Baker began the selectboard meeting with the words, “Your community is very safe. You have a very well running, efficient police department.” According to Baker, in his interviews with individual officers, he found that “All of them, to a person, were professional, candid, and honest.” Baker was sure to explain that, while the purpose of a department assessment was to find things that could be improved, in assessing Chester’s Police Department, he “didn’t want the review to appear all negative.”

In summary, Baker’s assessment recommended that the Town of Chester “explore and develop a Police Community Advisory Board,” as well as “add a sixth officer to be utilized as a detective.”

The next Chester Selectboard meeting will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 at 6 p.m. in the Chester Town Hall.

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