BELLOWS FALLS -- A couple of Saxtons River residents advocated for more community outreach from the Rockingham Planning Commission in regards to the idea of dividing their village into multiple zoning districts.
Gregg Noble and Patrick LeBlanc told commission members in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre Feb. 26 they don’t believe any Saxtons River residents or village trustees knew the commission planned to discuss the matter, which is still in the preliminary stages. Both men have problems with the draft plan and feel there should be more transparency and openness about the whole process. The plan would regulate how development is approved in the future.
Saxtons River is made up of one zoning district, and the idea of breaking down the village is one that has periodically been brought up for debate among the members of the Rockingham Planning Commission. Rockingham Planning-Zoning Administrator Ellen Howard has said the plan was last discussed in 2007, though it was shelved to make room for talking about the town plan, which must be revised every five years.
Howard previously told the Reformer Saxtons River’s zoning district has "all sorts of uses allowed within it," from single-family homes to enclosed manufacturing. She has said the benefits of having multiple zoning districts include making it clear that Main Street is commercial and other areas are more residential. She told the Reformer the plan up for discussion would permit a new look at different sorts of uses and decisions over what is appropriate and inappropriate for each zoning district.
But Noble and LeBlanc object to many aspects of the draft plan and what they perceive as an inability of the public to offer input. Noble said he believes Wednesday’s meeting was the first one advertised as regarding the Saxtons River zoning issue. He also wanted to know what prompted the discussion to rezone in the first place.
Howard explained that the conversation started in 2007 over "activities expanding Š throughout the village." But Noble was also concerned the draft plan doesn’t take into account the economic development attempts in Windham County. He asked if the commission had spoken to economic development organizations to discuss how the plan might affect the village, and Howard said she had talked with the Windham Regional Commission.
Howard also stressed the draft plan does not create any additional government regulations -- it would merely break up the village into multiple zoning districts with some restrictions as to what can be build in certain spots. Noble said Saxtons River does quite well as just one zoning district.
LeBlanc said the lack of publicity regarding a meeting in which the plan will be discussed makes him feel there is "a deliberate attempt to slide this under the radar." Planning Commission member Kath Martin said that is not the intention and the commission has followed the law regarding public warnings. She also said she was delighted citizens as concerned as Noble and LeBlanc took the time to attend the meeting and have their voices heard.
Howard previously told the Reformer the plan will have to be subjected to a public meeting and then a public hearing before being implemented.
Earlier during Wednesday’s meeting, David Raphael, of LandWorks in Middlebury, addressed the planning commission on his draft design review supplement for Bellows Falls. A municipal planning grant enabled his hiring and he told the Reformer his work is aimed at helping the village work with applicants interested in doing construction work and guiding them to do the right thing in the district.
"(It is) to provide more guidance to applicants as to how to do revision, restoration, alterations to these historic buildings or, when they go to build new buildings, to respect the patterns and rhythms and architectural integrity of this historic district, which is very unique," he explained. "This is a very unique historic district. There’s a lot of very architecture.
"This is based on the standards that are already in place in Bellows Falls," he continued. "This is illustrating the standards that are already in place."
His draft design review supplement consists of six sections, including a sources page and a glossary, that detail architectural details and styles and an overview of entire project. Raphael took comments and feedback from planning commission members, who seemed enthusiastic about his work.
Raphael told the Reformer he will now create a second draft, which he hopes will be ready soon.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.