BARRE — It wasn’t quite crickets, but a Planning Commission expecting an earful with respect to its proposed “Unified Development Ordinance” didn’t get one late last week.
Asked by city councilors to reopen its review of the proposed ordinance and entertain suggestions made by those who recently derailed its first reading, commissioners are still waiting to hear from them.
Though the commission did receive two comments and one question that members dealt with during last Thursday’s scheduled session, developer Thomas Lauzon didn’t attend and neither did Joel Schwartz, executive director of Barre Area Development Corp.
Lauzon twice pressed the council — once successfully — to “pump the brakes” on a process that has spanned nearly three years and could be weeks away from wrapping up. Representatives of Barre Area Development echoed that suggestion vowing Schwartz would welcome the chance to supplement his earlier observations about an ordinance that would replace zoning and subdivision regulations that have been on the books for decades.
Neither man submitted written comments in advance of Thursday’s meeting — the first of two scheduled at the council’s request.
Planning Director Janet Shatney said she hadn’t heard from Lauzon, but told commissioners Schwartz indicated he was ill and hoped to provide written comments in advance of the their May 23 meeting.
Michael Hellien, who ran the meeting in the absence of Chairwoman Jackie Calder, said he was inclined to wait for Schwartz based on what he characterized as an “understandable, extenuating circumstance.” However, he expressed frustration that Lauzon hadn’t provided written comments after pressing for a meeting he didn’t attend.
Contacted Monday, Lauzon said he had spoken with Mayor Lucas Herring, planned to attend the commission’s May 23 meeting and was operating under a “self-imposed deadline” to get written comments to Shatney by Wednesday.
“I want to give them (commissioners) a week to think about it,” he said.
Hellien and others on the commission had been operating under the assumption that they would receive all written comments in advance of last week’s meeting and spend two sessions determining whether they warranted recommending any changes to the document they forwarded to the council earlier this year.
Instead they received a couple of comments from Downstreet Housing and Community Development and a question Councilor Teddy Waszazak in advance before last week’s meeting.
Downstreet questioned whether waivers could be obtained in instances where meeting standards for “open space” and “bulk storage” were problematic and Waszazak was interested in whether the proposed ordinance would make the future development of affordable housing more or less likely.
That gave commissioners plenty of time to discuss appropriate closet sizes with Alison Friedkin, director of real estate development for Downstreet, but left them unable to react to the yet-to-be-articulated concerns of Barre’s busiest developer and it local development agency.
Based on the timeline dictated by the council those concerns will all need to be dealt with and any changes recommended at the May 23 meeting.
A one-nighter isn’t what Lauzon had in mind when he twice asked the council to pause the process for two months and schedule weekly meetings to consider changes to the document without providing much in the way of specifics.
Councilors responded with a compromise that required the commission to briefly re-engage and critics of the proposal to put their specific concerns in writing and submit them in advance.
The commission cleared the deck for last week’s meeting by dealing in advance with a concern raised by owners of the old Skyline Ski Area. Instead of fielding fresh concerns last week, commissioners wondered whether the compromise they agreed to with respect to the 200-acre tract was appropriate.
Though Hellien conceded it probably didn’t matter given development limitations of the property, he expressed misgivings about a recommended change that would theoretically allow the construction of many more homes on than would ever have been permitted under the current ordinance.
Most of the property is located in the conservation district and all of it would be under the proposed ordinance. However, the definition of “conservation” was changed radically to accommodate those concerned about future development of the city-owned cow pasture.
Under the current ordinance, residential development can occur in the conservation district on lots of five or more acres. The proposed ordinance prohibits that and other development – essentially depriving the Skyline’s owners of the ability to develop their property. That prompted an objection from the family and what Hellien argued was an imperfect solution to re-zone the land for low-density residential development.
The problem flagged by Hellien is that district would allow as many as 20 homes to be constructed on the same five acres where one home could previously be built.