By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — While some towns have struggled to find people to serve on various boards and elected offices, 11 Bristol residents have expressed interest in seats on the planning commission, with only two incumbents leaving. In fact, a total of 39 town residents have indicated interest in positions on eight town boards and committees.
Selectmen will interview the candidates at a special meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall. They may make decisions regarding the candidates then, but Selectwoman Sharon Compagna said appointments, an annual activity after March town meeting, will probably not be made until the regular selectboard meeting on March 31.
Compagna attributed the increased interest to the fact that an application form for volunteer positions was included in the town report.
Others say the ongoing controversy over plans for a gravel pit on land south of downtown Bristol has apparently spurred greater civic involvement, particularly on the planning commission.
Town administrator Bill Bryant said other municipal groups attracted “not that level of interest,” getting far fewer applicants per seat than the planning commission. The Revolving Loan Fund board, for example, only received four new applicants in addition to the seven members up for reappointment to one-year terms.
There are nine seats on the Bristol Planning Commission, each with a three-year term. Two of the members whose terms are up have expressed an interest in continuing, according to Bryant: Stan Livingston and Jim Peabody. Diane Heffernan, the third member whose term is up, isn’t interested in serving again, and Bunny Daubner is stepping down even though her term isn’t up until 2010, citing family health issues, Bryant said.
Eleven Bristol residents have offered to serve on the planning commission: Elizabeth Herrmann, Andrew Jackson, Susan Kavanagh, Patricia King, Merle Knight, Jody Lathrop, Garland Martin, Dave Mierop, John Moyers, Christopher Shaw and Willow Wheelock.
At least some of those town residents have been involved in the ongoing controversy over plans for a gravel pit on land owned by the Lathrop Limited Partnership just south of Bristol village. First proposed in 2003, a third revision of the plan was unveiled at a March 11 meeting of Bristol’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. Under the new plan, the main access to the pit would be via an access road on Rounds Road south of the proposed pit.
Although the ZBA approved the original application, opponents appealed that decision to the Environmental Court. The original plan is in limbo until the ZBA rules the new version. After that the District 9 Environmental Court will have to rule on them all.
Moyers and Jackson are both part of an effort to halt the pit, arguing that it would harm the town and is not allowed under the town plan, an update of which is now under review.
At least two other applicants also attended a March 11 meeting of Bristol’s Zoning Board of Adjustment regarding recent changes to the pit: Kavanagh and Shaw.
On the other side of the issue, planning commission candidate Jody Lathrop is married to Jason Lathrop, according to Town Clerk Therese Kirby. Jason Lathrop is one member of the Lathrop Limited Partnership. Jody Lathrop could not be reached for comment.
The planning commission has no authority over the application for the gravel pit specifically. The commission’s job is to review and propose revisions to the town plan, which by state law has to be renewed every five years. The town plan expired and, because the process of reviewing it was taking longer than expected, was simply renewed unchanged at the beginning of 2007.
But the town plan has attracted more than usual interest because it governs what kind of land uses are allowed in what parts of the town, and would impact future developments like a gravel pit.
“The debate over the gravel pit is symbolic of issues facing Bristol… whether Bristol is going to manage growth or growth is going to manage us,” Moyers said. He said there are a number of other issues facing the town, such as the tax base and what kind of business Bristol should encourage, but mining and other industrial use relating to the current pit issue was chief among his concerns.
At least some applicants for planning commission seats say they are basically neutral on the pit. Willow Wheelock said she has not followed the issue very closely. “I haven’t exposed myself to the debate to such a degree that I feel I can have an opinion on it,” she said. “I can see both sides.”
Instead, Wheelock said she has been involved with several community service efforts over the years and sees the planning commission as a new, different way to continue contributing to the community.
Neither Compagna nor Bryant would comment on how the selectboard would evaluate applicants or incumbents for offices. “I’m not going to look in a crystal ball,” Bryant said.