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Smart Growth for Bristol weighs in on town plan

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Bristol looks to be buzzing tonight: in Holley Hall at 7:30, residents and members of the Planning Commission will meet for a public hearing on the latest draft of the Bristol Town Plan.

And Smart Growth for Bristol wants residents to turn out in force — at least, that's what a new flyer from the group would suggest. The two-sided pamphlet, which includes zoning maps of the town, states: "The new Town Plan would allow mining and heavy industry in zones where not it is discouraged or prohibited ... WHY?" and "Proposed changes to the Town Plan open more of Bristol to mining and heavy industry ... ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR HOME?"

The map, as well as a letter addressed to "Dear Neighbors," went out to Bristol residents who live in or near the MIX or RA zones in Bristol. A portion of the letter reads:

"Now, there are places in Bristol where we might want heavy industrial development and mining, but there are also places where it is not appropriate. The new plan ought to spell out clearly, with some specifics, where those places are. Without such specifics, we loose a lot of local control over proposals for major industrial projects, and the lawyers and the courts will end up deciding for us."

According to planning commission Chair Tom Wells, the commission has made “hundreds” of changes to the town plan draft since the last public hearing, which took place in January. Among the most significantly revised sections are those dealing with energy and conservation, which the commission reviewed in joint meetings with the town’s energy and conservation committees.

As the Smart Growth for Bristol flyer might suggest, arguably the most heated topic up for conversation is the section of the plan dealing with resource extraction (which includes gravel pits). The commission has also tweaked this section since it's first draft was released last winter, and the latest draft spells out more clearly zoning areas in Bristol where mining would be prohibited. The new draft also includes a disclaimer, though, that this list of zoning districts “should not be considered exhaustive as to areas in which extraction will not be permitted and nothing in the Plan should be considered conclusive as to where extraction will or will not be permitted.”

So far, the list of zones where resource extraction would be prohibited include core residential areas — HDR and LDR — as well as the downtown BC, NC, ROC, REC, or MUN areas. But as Smart Growth for Bristol says on its flyer, the plan does not in fact explicitly prohibit mining in zoning districts like MIX, RA-1, RA-2, and RA-5.

But in addition to working on the latest draft of the town plan, the commission is also developing a draft of new regulations to govern mining and resource extraction operations in the town. These will likely be "conditional use" regulations — meaning that individuals looking to build mining or gravel pit operations in zoning areas that allow such operations would still have to meet a long list of requirements.

I spoke with Bristol resident John Moyers, who has been at the forefront of Smart Growth for Bristol for years, and Moyers weighed in with this: "It is not sufficient for the town plan to be vague or to leave decisions about what will and won’t be allowed in certain zones to the zoning bylaws. The plan itself needs to be specific. It’s not enough to say, ‘We’ll punt this.’"

The new regulations will eventually make up a new zoning ordinance that will head before Bristol voters — ideally, said Wells, at the same time the town plan goes up for a vote. We've covered this here at the Independent, and you can read the latest article about the town plan proceedings, and the draft zoning ordinance on resource extraction, here.

And for Bristol residents, consider turning out tonight at 7:30 p.m. for the public hearing. Wells has said that he expects this will be the last public hearing the planning commission conducts — though the selectboard will hold at least two more once the draft plan is handed off to them. If you haven't taken a look at the draft plan itself yet, you can read it online at the Bristol town Web site.

Be sure to check out this Thursday's paper for a run-down of the public hearing, and more on Bristol's draft town plan.

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