Commission OKs new version of Bristol town plan

BRISTOL — The Bristol Planning Commission on Tuesday put the finishing touches on its draft of the town plan and sent it to the selectboard for its review and two further public hearings.

After hours of deliberation on public comments and concerns submitted via letter and voiced at a Sept. 22 public hearing, the planners on Tuesday evening made a heap of revisions to the draft. They unanimously agreed, however, that there were “no substantial changes to the town plan,” which means the document is ready for the selectboard.

Among the revisions made were 40 minor changes to wording and three more substantial changes to content, including a readjustment of the no-extraction zone’s perimeter. 

The most contentious issue of the night stemmed from a proposed change by planner John Elder, which would place a gravel and sand extraction moratorium on private land within the conservation zone. This moratorium would then be lifted sometime after creation of a U.S. Geologic Service hydro-geologic map of the region that would help reveal where earth resources are located. Those are due in 2013.

Elder’s proposition for a freeze on conservation zone extraction stemmed from a Sept. 22 recommendation by Pete Diminico, vice-chair of the conservation commission, to ban extraction in that zone until the town had more information about its geologic features. This notion was strongly supported by those in attendance at the Sept. 22 meeting and was also backed by a Town Meeting Day poll, which found that 58 percent of participating residents favored prohibition of extraction in the conservation district.

“I think this is so important,” Elder said to his fellow planners Tuesday. “In both the poll and in the hearing a strong majority of citizens were against extraction in the conservation zone … We asked for the poll and we asked for the hearing, and … I think we have a responsibility to take into account the opinions expressed by our fellow citizens.”

But not all planners were convinced that this moratorium truly reflected the wishes of the majority. Vice-chair Chico Martin and long-time planner Bill Sayre explained that many townspeople for extraction are neither as loud as opponents nor inclined to participate as actively in public hearings and polls.

Debate over this issue launched a conversation about the difference between a representative and participatory democracy. Martin explained that as representatives in a representative democracy, the planners can best fulfill their civil duties by using their own discretion, rather than listening to the most vocal members of the town at a hearing.

“The poll was for our benefit,” said Martin about the Town Meeting Day poll. “How we interpret that poll is up to our individual judgments, and the information that we got … was unconvincing to me. I continue to believe that the majority of the people in the town of Bristol do not want a municipal body legislating personal opinion into municipal regulation, especially when it impinges upon their ability to use their property as they are currently entitled to.”

Sayre supported Martin’s assertion.

“The issue of gravel (extraction) has divided our town for many years,” he said. “The nature of the testimony has been that those who have supported gravel … in general, don’t participate as much in the public process as those who are opposed.”

Rather than remaining divided on this issue, Sayre urged his fellow planners to seek a compromise. The planners ironed out their thoughts and at the end of the meeting Elder presented verbiage that instead of suspending extraction in the conservation zone mandates a revisiting of the regulations when the proposed USGS maps are finished. This addition can be found on page 50 of the plan:

“As such mapping is completed over the next several years, the planning commission will revisit extraction regulations for the conservation zone and all other zones of the town in light of new information about the specific location of gravel beds as well as of other crucial natural resources and hydrology.”

NO-EXTRACTION ZONE ALTERED

At the suggestion of commission member Kris Perlee, the planners agreed to alter the perimeter of the zone where sand and gravel extraction would be prohibited. The grey area on the map pictured above represents the new no-extraction zone. It extends a little further east but trims off some lands to the north and south of the previously agreed upon no-extraction zone.

The land of the proposed Lathrop pit is still included in the no-extraction zone.

When asked about the zone’s expansion to the east, Perlee explained, “In the town plan we say that the LDR (Low Density Residential) zone is part of the core area. The expansion there includes the LDR zone, which was inadvertently left out (in the previous draft).”

The other major change to the no-extraction zone is the removal of two swaths of land to its north and south ends.

“The Core planning area does not include the Rural Two zones and both these pieces (trimmed from the original no-extraction zone) are in the Rural Two area,” said Perlee. “They also don’t conform to discussions that we as a planning commission have had over the past year-and-a-half over this particular zone.”

In other activity at Tuesday’s meeting:

•  Elder sought to clarify the land makeup of the conservation zone. After adjourning for 15 minutes, Sayre and Elder presented an addition to page 49 of the town plan draft, which the commission approved. The addition reads:

“Public lands within the (conservation) area account for approximately half of that total, and most all forms of development or extraction would never be likely to occur on these lands … Private lands in the conservation zone are and will be subject to town planning and zoning.  Some private lands, however, may be subject to additional restrictions through easements or covenants.”

•  Kristen Underwood and Diminico of the conservation commission said they had applied to the government officials for their recommendation to have the USGS fund a geologic map of Bristol. Diminico and Underwood are part of a planning and conservation commission subcommittee with planners Perlee and Elder to oversee this map project for the town.

The state committee approved the Bristol map project and ranked it No. 1 in terms of town mapping priorities for the Vermont Geologic Survey to apply for funding from the USGS.

Since the bulk of Bristol falls under two main geologic quadrants, the planning commission agreed to prioritize the northern quadrant of the town, which includes Hogback Mountain. Both the north and south quadrants may still receive funding, but the town was required to prioritize one quadrant over the other.

Reporter Andrew Stein is at andrews@addisonindependent.com.


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