By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — The Bristol community got a chance to give an earful to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) and representatives of the Lathrop Limited Partnership about plans for a gravel pit south of downtown Bristol.
Some area residents spoke up to support Lathrop’s plans for a pit saying it would provide a needed resource — gravel — and its risks are overstated. But almost all members of the public who addressed the board feared its effects on its neighbors and the area.
“I can’t imagine how heavy industry can be allowed in an area not zoned for heavy industry,” Bristol resident Charles Manning told the board.
The plan to open the gravel pit began with an application in 2003 by the family of James Lathrop. The ZBA approved the plan in 2004, but a group calling itself Smart Growth for Bristol, founded by Bristol resident John Moyers and represented by local lawyer James Dumont, appealed that decision. After various hearings in Vermont Environmental Court, Lathrop Limited Partnership in August 2007 filed a new plan with a number of changes, including an access road via Rounds Road.
Opponents of the plan have waited awhile to weigh in on the latest proposal. Tuesday’s hearing followed two other ZBA hearings — one in November and one in March — at which there was only enough time for comments from those involved in building and operating the proposed pit. An estimated 30 to 40 Bristol residents attended Tuesday’s meeting, as well as a few from surrounding towns. About 20 people spoke at the hearing.
Manning, who has visited the Bristol area for decades and recently bought a house on Lower Notch Road, said he was dismayed when he learned about the plan and its effect on the neighborhood. He has not been alone in questioning whether the parcel was zoned for a gravel pit.
Most of the land the pit would be on is zoned RA-2, which the town plan says is “intended to be primarily a mix of residential and agricultural uses with cluster development desirable.” However, representatives of the Lathrops have argued that Bristol’s zoning regulations allow gravel extraction “in any district.”
While some who spoke at the hearing came simply to speak their minds, other came organized to dispute specific claims that have been made by representatives of the Lathrop Limited Partnership.
Attorney David Grayck, former deputy secretary of state and former counsel for the Vermont Environmental Board, spoke at Dumont’s request.
In previous hearings, Lathrop’s attorney, Mark Hall, has argued that Criteria 9D of the Act 250 environmental regulations would prevent any future use of the land that would make it impossible extract mineral resources like gravel. Grayck disagreed.
“That is not how the environmental board has interpreted it,” Grayck said.
In addition, more than one member of the public argued that the pit would hurt property values in the area.
“Sticking a gravel pit in this area … would clearly depress these property values,” said Claire Wallace, a Bristol resident and owner of Wallace Realty. She said that a number of recent sales of homes in the area would have fetched a much lower price or fallen through entirely if the pit plan went forward.
John “Slim” Pickens also presented some estimates of declining property values and town tax revenue, which he said was prepared by tax analyst Deb Brighton. Pickens argued that although the value and therefore the property taxes on the site of the pit would increase, it would drive down property values in the surrounding neighborhood even more.
PRO GRAVEL PIT
One member of the public spoke up Tuesday to support the proposal, saying that Bristol town regulations should not block gravel extraction.
“This is a vastly needed natural resource,” said Craig Scribner. He now lives on Bristol Cliffs Road, but Scribner said he used to live and work on Hewitt Road, near the proposed pit.
Scribner downplayed the impact of the pit on the surrounding area. He said that trucks from previous gravel pits in the area operated on Hewitt Road and Lower Notch Road, and there was also active farming and even crop-dusting of one farmer’s fields that sometimes left a visible spray on the properties of neighbors, but “nobody complained.”
Scribner also disputed the claims made earlier by Wallace, saying that his wife, a lister, says that property values have been stable around the other pits in the area.
However, Wallace pointed out that a lister’s job is not to lower the assessed value of properties and the taxes due on that property. A lister usually doesn’t revise property values down unless the property owner specifically grieves the currently assessed value, she said, so a lister’s assessments can lag years behind actual prices while real estate agents have to keep their assessments more current.
Attorney Dumont, representing a group opposed to the pit, said that the application should not have been filed in the first place because the current plan may require work on a neighbor’s property and the neighbor has not approved the plan.
Greg Moye owns land adjoining the proposed pit site to the south. Dumont claimed that straightening the intersection of Rounds Road and Lower Notch Road would require crossing onto Moye’s property.
Dumont said that Moye could not attend Tuesday’s hearing, and that Dumont was not representing Moye himself. Then Dumont presented an affidavit from Moye denying any involvement with or approval of the proposal.
However, engineer Jeremy Matosky, working for Lathrop Limited Partnership, said that what looks on the maps like a new road on Moye’s property, is just the existing Rounds Road. His plans call for removing the asphalt of the old road when the new intersection is installed, but he said the road could be completed without doing so if necessary.
“If they don’t want that tiny little triangle of asphalt removed, that’s fine,” Matosky said. “There is no part of our construction that needs to happen on Moye’s property.”
This hearing is not the end of the process. Neighbors and town residents questioned the noise impact of operating the pit, so a noise test has been tentatively scheduled for May 31. Another hearing will be needed some time in June, according to Dumont, so experts he has hired can review data submitted by Lathrop’s engineers, but an exact date has not been set.