Tuesday February 5, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro’s new town plan inched a little closer toward completion Wednesday, but not before the Selectboard made a few significant changes to some of the proposals concerning land use regulations and the so-called "big box" ordinance.

The Selectboard held a public hearing Wednesday night to go through the plan and adopt a number of proposed changes that the Selectboard had made at a previous meeting.

Many of these less significant recommendations passed with little controversy or discussion.

But the Selectboard and members of the Planning Commission and Planning Department tangled for almost two hours over the proposed land use and big box changes.

At the meeting Wednesday the Selectboard added the words "to be considered" to a number of proposed land use regulations that the Planning Commission wanted to include in the Town Plan that would have increased the minimum parcel sizes in the rural, rural residential and industrial zones.

The Planning Commission wanted the new Town Plan to increase the minimum parcels from 1.5 acres to 3 acres in the rural residential zone, from 3 acres to 10 acres in the rural zone, and from 22,000 square feet to 3 square acres in the industrial zone.

The Planning Commission held four years worth of public hearings and meetings while drafting the Town Plan, but the Selectboard felt that property owners would be blind sided by the new regulations and the Selectboard was not willing to include the new land use regulations in the Town Plan without giving Brattleboro residents another chance at weighing in on the proposed changes.

Throughout Wednesday night’s meeting the Selectboard members differed on some of the changes, and proposed suggestions, but they unanimously supported the watered down language that lets property owners develop their land under the previous parcel size restrictions.

"These were significant changes the Planning Commission was recommending to the land use regulations," Selectboard member David Gartenstein said after the meeting. "The board felt that there needed to be more public input."

The Planning Department will be completely re-writing the town’s subdivision regulations and zoning ordinance in the coming year and Gartenstein said he expected the issue to be brought up again during that process.

In the proposed Town Plan the Planning Commission also wanted to eliminate the so called "Big box" ordinance that requires developers to do an economic impact assessment before moving forward on projects which are larger than 65,000 square feet.

The big box ordinance was established after months of public hearings and Selectboard member Dora Bouboulis said it was not fair to eliminate the requirement without holding additional public hearings and letting ordinance supporters weigh in on the change.

Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said it made sense for the Commission to go over decisions that had been made, and it was in their purview to overturn requirements if they were not in the best interest of the Town Plan.

Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray agreed with the Commission and wanted to overturn the big box ordinance because he said it discouraged development.

The Selectboard voted 4-1 to keep the big box ordinance in place.

The board also had some hesitations about including a fluvial erosion hazard regulation in the Town Plan, but after some debate agreed to keep it in as recommended by the Planning Commission.

The Planning Department will now take all of the recommendations from Wednesday night and write them into the final Town Plan.

The department hopes to have the final draft ready Friday, and then the Selectboard will vote to approve the final plan at its Feb. 19 meeting.