Brattleboro Selectboard won't accept Town Plan

Tuesday January 15, 2013

BRATTLEBORO - After about four years of work, the Planning Commission might have to dig back into the proposed Town Plan in order to get the Selectboard to sign off on it.

The Planning Commission has been holding a series of public hearings with the Selectboard to discuss the proposed Town Plan. The Selectboard's approval is the final step in the very long process of adopting a new town plan.

Monday night the board and members of the Planning Commission talked about one of the most important sections, the Land Use chapter, and there seems to be a wide gap between what the Planning Commission is recommending and what the Selectboard is willing to accept.

The Planning Commission is recommending big changes in the Planned Unit Development process, wants to change the town's "Big Box" development rules, and also is saying that the minimum lots in the rural district be increased.

If the board wanted to it could approve the plan with minor changes to the proposed plan. But if major changes are made to the proposed plan, then it will have to go back and a new series of hearings would have to be scheduled.

Selectboard Vice Chairman David Gartenstein said he had many problems with the proposed Land Use chapter. For starters, he said increasing the minimum lot sizes in the rural district would make it harder for low and moderate income people to own land and develop it.

Gartenstein also said he did not want to add new design regulations to the downtown district which would add costs to projects. And he did not think it was a god idea to adopt a fluvial erosion regulation after the Selectboard voted to reject the same regulations a few years ago.

Gartenstein said he would not support the Town Plan the way it was presented.

Board member Dora Bouboulis also said the Planning Commission was proposing major changes without having a thorough public process first.

The Planning Commission wants to remove the requirement for a market analysis for buildings larger than 65,000 square feet. The requirement originally was adopted as part of Brattleboro's drive to establish so-called "Big box store" rules.

Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin said the PUD process was cumbersome and unclear and that it added expense and created uncertain outcomes. She said the Planning Commission wanted to change the PUD process so that it created quality development in Brattleboro.

She said the proposed change would have the Development Review Board largely be responsible for making decision about the PUD process. Right now a PUD application has to go to the Planning Commission and the Selectboard.

Bouboulis said she wanted the Planning Commission to stay involved with the PUD process, saying that larger developers who have to go through the PUD process benefit in the long run by getting more input on their projects.

She said the process should be easier and shorter, but the Planning Commission should have a role in considering PUD applications.

Development Review Board Chairman Tim Cuthbertson also said he had problems with the proposed changes to the Planned Unit Development process in the Land Use chapter of the Town Plan.

In a letter Cuthbertson wrote to the Selectboard he said that while he agrees that the PUD process needs to be updated, the proposed changes, he said, would stymie economic development.

"I do not think our TP should block, make more difficult or disincetivize economic growth," Cuthbertson wrote. "It is obviously important that where possible barriers to job creation or business development be removed not added."

Town Manager Barbara Sondag tried to get the two sides to reach an understanding on how the process could proceed, but Gartenstein, Bouboulis, and board member Chris Chapman seemed unwilling to adopt the Town Plan as it is written.

The board will discuss the Town Plan again on Jan. 30.


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