SOUTH HERO PLANNNG COMMISSION MINUTES June 16, 2021
This meeting was held both in the Town Office and by Zoom
Members Present: In Town Office — Doug Patterson (Chair); Michele Gammal; David Roy
Member Absent: Sandy Gregg
Public Present: In Town Office – Ross Brown; Tim Maxham; Kathy Magill. Via Zoom – Cindy and Phil Reynolds; Sylvie and Richard Breault; Bridget Kerr; Bob Fireovid; Michelle Monroe; Nate Hayward; George Harwood; Anne Quinn.
6:00PM – D. Patterson opened the meeting.
Changes to the Agenda
There were none.
There was none.
Public Hearing to Amend Development Regulations
Act 179 – Changes to Accessory Dwelling Regulations – mandated by the State to comply with newly passed legislation.
- 302.D.2 – add to the regulation that multi-unit dwelling projects of 4 or less units cannot be denied solely due to an undue adverse effect on the character of the area.
- 701.B.1(d) – [related to size of an accessory dwelling to the primary dwelling] Decrease percentage from 50% to 30%, increase square footage from 700 to 900, and add “whichever is greater.”
Phil Reynolds questioned whether the primary dwelling could become an accessory structure to a new primary structure. The Commission agreed, as long as setback and septic requirements can be met.
**D. Roy moved to recommend the Selectboard approve the amendments to Sec. 302 and 701 of the Development Regulations; M. Gammal second. All in favor.
Table 2.1 (Allowed Uses)
- Under “Commercial Uses – Accessory Uses” the notation ‘P’ (permitted) is proposed to be changed to C/S (conditionally permitted with site plan review) for all zoning districts.
The Commission felt that if additional accessory uses are permitted without review by the Development Review Board, issues may arise that could cause problems, such as insufficient parking, siting, or other issues the DRB may identify during a review.
There were no comments from the public.
**M. Gammal moved to recommend the Selectboard adopt the proposed change to Table 2.1 unsder Commercial Accessory Uses; D. Roy second. All in favor.
- Under “Commercial Uses – Industrial”, the notation ‘X’ is proposed to be changed to C/S (conditionally permitted with site plan review) in the South Hero and Keeler Bay Village zoning districts.
The Commission’s reasoning for the amendment is that the District Purposes in Sec. 203 (Zoning District Purposes) clearly outline that small, low-impact industry is anticipated and encouraged within the village districts. However, in Table 2.1, ‘Industrial’ is shown as not permitted (X). This amendment rectifies this contradiction and calls for the DRB to consider applications for the use with Conditional Use and Site Plan Review guidelines.
Bridget Kerr presented a slide show and remarks. I have attached a copy of her remarks she provided to the Commission members to the end of minutes.
Bob Fireovid told the Commission that South Hero is known for its quiet open space and water, which he said is unique in Vermont. Industrial operations are inappropriate and should, instead, be in other communities. He urged the Planning Commission not to allow any industrial development anywhere in South Hero.
Anne Quinn said she agreed with Bridget and Bob. Open space should continue and let industry be in Colchester, Milton, and Burlington — not in the Islands.
Nate Hayward told the hearing that the DRB had denied an application last summer for a trucking terminal in the South Hero Village zoning district as not meeting the definition of a low-impact, light industry, and had approved an application from a woodworking shop that met the requirements under conditional use review. He wants to see small impact, local employers welcome in South Hero. He feels there is a place for some types of light industry and is in favor of allowing the DRB to determine that.
- Patterson stated that the DRB is made up of talented people with a broad base of knowledge and the Planning Commission wants to allow the DRB to discern what is or is not light industry.
Bob Fireovid stated that the DRB is developer centric and biased toward development. D. Roy reminded him that the DRB review process allows for public input. Bridget Kerr stated that the DRB is full of development professionals.
Ross Brown spoke in support of light industry. He felt a lot of these issues revolved around the Lavin property, and that those who don’t want it developed could buy it themselves. The DRB’s decisions are objective and based on the Regulations. Development can provide job opportunities. The goal of development is to make the town more self-contained. Would those opposed to low-impact industry prefer tasteful buildings or numerous homes?
- Gammal felt many low-impact industries would be tourist based. The Town needs a greater tax base, helping the local economy. The DRB reviews are thorough and the Board cares about the community.
Bridget Kerr asked the Commission to either define “low-impact industry” or remove it from the Regulations. She feels the Planning Commission, DRB, and Zoning Administrator have too much discretion. The Town needs to consider the impact industry could have on homeowners. Otherwise, “it’s homeowners be damned.”
- Patterson and M. Gammal agreed that “low-impact, light industry” cannot be defined as there are too many variables. Let the DRB make that determination. M. Gammal does not want to turn business away by over-regulating. D. Roy stated that a diverse mix of uses makes a community. Bob Fireovid said that that was comparing apples to oranges. South Hero is a bedroom, recreational, and vacation community.
Phil Reynolds stated that perhaps the Planning Commission should reconsider the Town Plan and define light industry. He does not see the tax benefit for having light industry.
**D. Roy moved to recommend the Selectboard approve the changes to Table 2.1 – Industrial uses in the South Hero and Keeler Bay Village zoning districts; M. Gammal second. All in favor.
Review of Minutes
- Gammal moved to accept the minutes of the May 19, 2021 PC meeting; D. Roy second. All in favor.
- Mobile Vendors Ordinance. The Ordinance was sent to the Development Review Board members prior to the meeting. Gammal had concerns about the “circus coming to town” but felt that the ordinance sections related to signage and enforcement already covered that.
- Small Business Saturday. Gammal met with Andrew Julow (Champlain Islands Economic Development), Randy Smith, and other local business owners. It was decided to change the date from November 20, 2021 to October 9-10, 2021 (holiday weekend) to take advantage of the better weather, seasonal businesses that will still be open, leaf peepers, and apple season. Wineries and breweries will be featured prominently, and other Grand Isle County businesses could be hosted by South Hero businesses for this first Small Business Saturday. If successful, it can eventually expand to include other towns in the Islands. Michele hopes to also encourage participation from the Library, Fire Department, restaurants, and even farm tours. The committee will be meeting again next week.
- Zoning Maps. Northwest Regional Planning GIS specialist Emily Adams is back in the office and working on amending the village zoning district maps (removing ‘draft’) and producing a new town-wide zoning map to include the new districts. The village district maps are on the Town website and the town-wide map will be available soon.
- Regulating Heliports and Airstrips. The Commission agreed that regulating heliports and airfields should be through an ordinance rather than through zoning. North Hero is currently considering regulating them. The Town has no jurisdiction over planes that land on the water. The PC members will review information that Doug sent them, and this will be included in the agenda for the July 7, 2021 meeting.
- Martha told the members that she had received a phone call from Ilmar Vanderer concerned that the village zoning maps did not show the correct boundaries for his parcel. He owns the parcel immediately south of the south boundary of the Keeler Bay Village zoning district and felt that, by not being included in the village district, he was unduly restricted. He is limited by the State to develop the property (no wastewater, Shoreland Protection, etc.) and felt that a more liberal designation of the zoning district would give him more leverage with the State. Martha will talk to Emily Adams at NRPC to see what steps need to be taken to correct the lot boundaries.
- Greta Brunswick of NRPC sent sample workplans for achieving a basic Town Plan update and a workplan that would be funded by a municipal planning grant. Martha will send the material to the PC members and include discussion on the agenda for 7/7.
- Two Electric Vehicle charging stations are to be installed at Jolly’s in South Hero. Martha will check the original site plan to see if there are already sufficient parking spaces to accommodate the EV stations, or if the DRB will need to amend the existing site plan. No other information is available at this time re installation schedules.
- The next meeting will be July 7, 2021. Meetings are now in the Town Office, with Zoom option available.
8:10 PM – The Board entered executive session.
8:25 PM – The Board came out of executive session. The discussion regarded the open seat on the Commission and potential members who had expressed interest. No decision was made. Discussion will continue at the 7/7 meeting when all members are present.
8:25 PM – D. Roy move to adjourn; M. Gammal second. All in favor.
Martha Taylor-Varney, ZA
Signed: _________________________________________ Date: ____________________
For the Planning Commission
These minutes are unofficial until approved at the next regularly scheduled meeting. All motions were unanimous unless otherwise indicated.
Hearing submission by Bridget Kerr:
South Hero Planning Commission Public Hearing
June 16, 2021
Updates to Development Regulations
To the Planning Commission:
I am writing to express concerns regarding South Hero’s March 2020 Development Regulations. These regulations could permit and even encourage development that will change the character of South Hero in ways that are not desired by the majority of residents. I am also concerned by the lack of transparency in Planning Commission (PC) proceedings when timely information is not available and residents are not provided the opportunity to vote on changes. Though the PC —pre-pandemic—held public hearings on these development regulations, there are no zoning district maps within the finalized document for the public to view. But of particular concern is the PC’s intention now to provision for industrial development in both village zoning districts.
Having served on the South Hero PC from 2017-2020, I know from first-hand experience that this revision effort required years of lengthy meetings, extended discussions, and lots of “wordsmithing” by a group of citizen volunteers. I believe that the overall organization and general readability of these regulations have been greatly improved, however, social equity and the protection and enhancement of South Hero’s natural assets need to be given more consideration—especially since these regulations are supposed to align with the Town Plan, which is now due for a revision.
Regardless of background, I think most would agree that the appeal of South Hero is its small size, pastoral surroundings, and lakeshore with stunning mountain views. We have a wonderful combination here of agricultural land and open space, with extensive recreational opportunities. And these assets are natural resources sought after by all those who visit and spend their money in the Champlain Islands. I think most homeowners would agree that these are assets that need to be enhanced and preserved for tourists and residents alike. So we need to get these development regulations right; I ask the PC to more carefully consider the best interest of our whole community.
My personal experience serving on the PC and events over the past year have convinced me that these 2020 development regulations should have been put to the voters. In 2019, when the Development Review Board (DRB) issued its decision to allow the Lavin property to be subdivided, the PC was working to finalize the new village zoning district boundaries, one of the biggest changes to this document. This is also when some on the PC and DRB began to actively advocate for including most of the Lavin parcel, adjacent to South Hero Village, into one of the two new village zoning districts. As a board member who had concerns about including so much undeveloped open space within this new village district, I expected my colleagues to have the capacity to listen and consider the viewpoints of those who live in the area impacted directly by these boundaries. But instead, when my term came up for renewal, I was effectively silenced and excluded from the discussion by the decision to terminate my service on this board.
As a resident and homeowner of South Hero, I’ve been following local town planning for nearly a decade. I started attending PC meetings regularly in 2016 as a member of the public. Initially, I was welcomed and encouraged by this board to offer my perspective, and eventually, when I was appointed to the PC, to offer my skills. But by the end of my term, it seemed my concerns about social equity and conservation became inconvenient for those wielding power here in South Hero. I’ve lived with my family on South Street since 2008. My husband and I work at jobs that put our household in the low range of “middle income.” We are year-round residents and our property is our only and forever home; it is our nest egg. We are grateful to own a home in a place as beautiful as South Hero– especially since we really can’t afford to travel when we have time off, and our prospect of retirement is uncertain. I am a fourth-generation Vermonter who left home as soon as I graduated from high school. By the time I graduated from college, I had experienced enough urban life out-of-state to know that I am not a city person and that Vermont is a unique and special place. I would have returned from out of state sooner if I had not had the privilege of living and working in a national park. In Yosemite National Park, I edited planning documents and learned a lot about public land use and environmental policy, and assisted environmental attorneys with historic and successful Wild and Scenic River Act litigation on user capacity. While serving my term on the South Hero PC, I never missed a meeting and frequently volunteered to do additional research, writing, and editing outside of meetings; I also made time to attend state and regional trainings that were offered so that I could bolster my knowledge of municipal planning and Vermont land-use policies.
Bearing all this in mind, I make the following recommendations:
- Remove the term “low impact industry” from Section 203: Zoning District Purposes of the Development Regulations. This term is incongruous with the overall purposes of both Village Districts as described in this section of the document. The PC needs to plan for a realistic, resilient, and sustainable future for South Hero. Growth is not inevitable, and development decisions could focus on making South Hero better, not bigger. Let’s focus on enhancing South Hero’s residential and agricultural character, rather than bringing in industrial businesses. Manufacturing-related activities rarely serve a community well—the fact that “eye-popping” levels of PFAS (cancer-causing “forever chemicals”) have been detected at the old town dump is evidence that industry will not enhance our town. At the April 7, 2021 PC meeting, Greta Brunswick, from the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, spoke to this when she made the recommendation the PC add “community health and resilience” to the implementation section of the soon to be revised Town Plan; this senior planner suggests that priorities such as recreation, promoting active lifestyles, community connectivity, and walkability are community assets to create and/or enhance. This regional planning professional’s recommendation is echoed by the South Hero Recreation Commission and is well-reflected in their recent online survey of residents.
- If the town of South Hero is to be zoned by district, those who serve on the PC and DRB need to demonstrate better representation across these zoning districts. No members of the current PC live in either of the village zoning districts. To assist with improving representation, the Selectboard could increase the number of PC members from five to seven members (or, possibly up to nine members).
- South Hero needs a Conservation Commission. A Conservation Commission would ultimately reduce the workload of the PC, DRB, and Selectboard by providing the expertise and research needed to advise on issues related to South Hero’s unique and valuable, and in some cases, finite, natural resources.The towns of Cornwall, Newbury, and Wallingford are similar in population to South Hero, and each of these towns and many other Vermont towns have Conservation Commissions.
- All municipal bodies in South Hero need to be more inclusive. The town of South Hero would engender more community confidence if it were to prohibit its elected officials from serving on the PC and/or DRB. Even if this type of “crossover” may technically be allowed by the state, Vermont’s conflict of interest rules are some of the laxest in the nation. I’m certain more residents would step up to serve on these boards and may even be more inclined to run for elected positions if they felt more respected and heard.
- The PC needs to be more transparent by complying consistently with Open Meeting Law. The modernization of the town website is a step in the right direction but if accurate PC meeting agendas and minutes don’t get posted promptly, the community at large isn’t able to understand or even weigh in on important issues, regardless of the user-friendliness of an updated website.
Given the less than ideal way the finalization of this document has played out, and the PC’s reluctance to define “low impact industry,” I am not comfortable having my name on this most recent iteration of South Hero’s development regulations. I cannot support a document that circumvented town voters and now may be changed to give more discretion to the DRB and Zoning Administrator; I request my name be taken off the “Acknowledgments” page of this document as soon as possible.
Going forward, I hope you will consider more carefully how all South Hero residents may see it—including its low and middle-income homeowners.
Thank you for listening.