Editorial: Bristol faces crucial votes

On Tuesday, Bristol residents will vote by Australian ballot on two crucial issues: adoption of a revised town plan and a new zoning ordinance that would regulate gravel mining. The votes are crucial because under the revised town plan, the RA-2 zoning district that butts up against downtown’s Main Street would allow for a large gravel pit, and mining of natural resources were unnecessarily opened in the town’s conservation districts. For residents opposed to having a gravel pit within an arm’s throw of the downtown’s retail district, both the town plan and proposed ordinance should be rejected.

That said, Bristol residents need not worry that the three-year effort by the planning commission to rewrite the town plan would go up in smoke. That’s not the case. Much of the work done on the town plan is well conceived and will serve as an excellent document for town planning once this land use issue (which takes up about a half page of the 110-page document) is resolved.

And the land use matter could be easily resolved.

From the beginning, this has been an issue that has pitted the property rights of one corporation against the best interest of the community. Very few residents, when questioned, think that a gravel pit less than a quarter-mile from the heart of its downtown is in the town’s best interests. Not at all. Residents know that an active gravel pit comes with excessive noise, increased levels of dust, intermittent blasting and vastly increased truck traffic to haul the gravel. Color that anyway you want, but a wart-hog is still a wart-hog.

The planning commission heard this reaction years ago, but chose not to give it the credence it deserves. I say that even though many concessions were made to those opposed to the gravel pit in the revised town plan and the ordinance. But the concessions were based on a false premise: that compromise between the vast majority of town residents and one corporation was the measure of fairness.

That is simply not the measure of democracy. It is not true that one corporation, no matter how big or small, has the same weight as hundreds of residents who consistently voice their opposition.

In revising the town plan, the planning commission’s duty was to craft a plan that served the wishes of a majority of its residents. There is no part of its mission that says it must give gravel pit operators an equal say in where gravel extraction will be permitted. Yet, that has been this commission’s modus operandi.

Rather, what is expected of planning commissions is to craft a plan that allows reasonable economic development throughout the town. The reasonableness of those ideas is gauged by the willingness of residents to endorse the commission’s recommendations. When the public rejects a recommendation, most commissions accommodate the public’s desire.

The resolution would entail a simple re-drafting of the zoning districts to extend the mixed-use district into part of the area closest to the downtown that covers the proposed Lathrop gravel pit. While the mixed use district under the revised town plan does not allow for mining extraction, the present district doesn’t cover much of the proposed pit and, more importantly, does not extend into an area that adequately defines the downtown and residential areas that should be designated for the town’s long-term development. The mixed zone should include, at the very least, the level 40-acre meadow backed by woods and wilderness that is within easy walking distance of schools and the downtown. It is an ideal spot for residential development and one of the last available pieces of land close enough to the downtown that could be developed. That it has remained a parcel for gravel extraction under the revised town plan is not in the community’s best interest.

Nor is it in the town’s interest to have the town’s conservation zones subject to gravel extraction.

We do, however, agree with the planning commission’s effort to more clearly define the use of each district with greater specificity. In the end, that should alleviate the vagueness of the current town plan and allow both developers and residents a clearer path forward in its development with less conflict.

For now, however, Bristol residents should feel comfortable in sending the planning commission a simple message: Keep most of your hard work intact, but redraft that small portion on land use so residential development is the highest use of the land that closely surrounds the downtown.

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Addison County Independent

58 Maple Street
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100