ADDISON — Addison planners on Feb. 21 agreed to recommend to selectmen that changes to town zoning made last summer be reversed, at least until the planning commission goes over them again and warns them publicly.
Planners also said the changes made to setbacks and waiver procedures late last summer and early last fall reflected their work and intent, and were not, as some citizens had alleged, made by selectboard chairman Jeff Kauffman, then the zoning administrator.
“I want it clearly understood that we understood every change that was made in the revisions, and we approved them,” said planning commission chairman Frank Galgano.
Planner Tim Davis told the 10 people in attendance he agreed with Galgano.
“I just want to say I reviewed these regs. I reviewed some of my notes. I had some great concerns of something maybe not gone quite right. And the conclusion I came to is basically ... very similar to what he (Galgano) said,” Davis said.
Those at the town clerk’s office included Selectmen Kauffman, Joy Pouliot and Kimball Provencher; selectboard candidate and school board member Rob Hunt; and Barbara Ernst and Barbara Supeno, lakeshore property owners who have criticized planners and selectmen for adopting what they called major changes without hearings, and also suggested Kauffman authored the changes.
HISTORY OF CHANGES
The question then became how to handle the changes: “Private roads” were added last summer to a lakefront zoning list that already applied setbacks to state and town roads, and a page-and-a-half of new language dealing with waivers for which residents could apply to exempt their properties from dimensional requirements, such as setbacks and minimum lot sizes.
Planners said they understood citizens’ concerns — they had received two other letters in addition to persistent complaints from Supeno and Ernst that the changes were major and thus required a public process, including warned hearings.
But they defended their work.
On private roads and setbacks, Galgano said private roads were already included along with town and state roads elsewhere in the zoning laws.
Planners, he said, “simply thought it would be proper to add private roads because they existed in two of the other tables, to this table ... We thought it was a minor change and it was not necessary to go through an individual public hearing.”
On waivers, Galgano said planners did not change “the basic definition for the waiver.”
Davis said of the new waiver language, “It’s not really a condition that would make or break a lot line, change a line, change anything to the lot, other than it’s a process how you process the paperwork.”
Overall, Galgano said planners acted in good faith.
“These things were done ... in what we understood at that point within the spirit and the letter of what we were supposed to be doing,” he said. “We went through public hearings. We made recommendations to the selectboard. They held public hearings on all of these ... And if we have to go back to 2007 as is being requested in some of the letters, I don’t know exactly how we go about doing that, but I’m not opposed to thinking about doing that or even doing it.”
But Supeno said she and Ernst found “discrepancies” in what was produced in the final draft, which came out after planners agreed on Aug. 16 only to make minor and technical changes, specifically to setbacks and waiver language.
Supeno said they were “not saying we have any issue with the exact content or not,” but disagreed with the process, and said their conversations with state officials supported their beliefs.
“There are certain procedures that need to be followed by statute for minor and major changes. The procedures that were followed in this case were for minor. The changes that were made were major,” Supeno said.
Ernst added that she and Supeno, who own lakefront property, had recently prevailed in an Environmental Court case in which the judge had ruled that the new waiver provisions were not enforceable because of the process.
“Anyone coming and (being) granted a waiver by the DRB ... it will be thrown out of court,” Ernst said. “We have to be very cautious in saying we can let it stand until we do this and we do that. That means everybody can come to the DRB and get this waiver that the Environmental Court has already said, ‘You can’t apply this waiver this way.’”
Ultimately, planners decided to recommend to selectmen — the final arbiters — that they restart the process. The only questions became whether to cherry-pick the two provisions in question or to go through the 2007 laws again completely to make sure there were no other changes.
Davis first recommended planners “extract” and reconsider the private road and waiver provisions, and let the rest of the rewrite stand. But planner Charles Kelly suggested a more global approach — a return to the full November 2007 zoning laws. He said he found other items that should be double-checked when he looked it over.
Davis, who said he also had gone over the 2007 laws line-by-line, agreed and amended his motion.
Galgano favored the more targeted approach — as well as agreeing with all that an amendment adopted since handling personal landing strips would stand.
“Why don’t you simply go back and take out those two sections and take them out for the moment? You’re going to re-instate 98 pages of work to take care of two small sections,” he said.
Ernst then weighed in.
“I’m going to tell you, when we went through line-by-line, there were some other things that may or may not have been major or minor changes that were changed,” she said.
Finally, Davis, Kelly and Douglas Clifford, a majority of the five members present, voted to revert back to 2007. Planners scheduled two March work sessions to go over the laws, which they agreed would probably be enough time to finish the task with the amended laws on hand to use as a template.
Several audience members clapped at the decision.
“How often do you get applause?” Hunt asked.
Given Galgano’s take on planning and zoning in Addison, possibly not too often.
“This town is a conglomeration of non-conforming, substandard properties. We have some of the damndest looking lots sites you’ll ever see,” he said. “We have to try to help somebody utilize them to the best they can, and try to keep them from impinging on their neighbors at the same time. That is not an easy task.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.