Bye bye bylaws: Halifax to hold hearing on repealing zoning regulations

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HALIFAX — The Planning Commission does not recommend repealing zoning bylaws as suggested by residents in a petition.

"Zoning bylaws are not immutable. Voters can amend zoning bylaws to accommodate changes in state law and the needs of the town," the commission said. "Repealing the zoning bylaws altogether would sever the mechanism that allows Halifax to openly and fairly comply with the Town Plan."

A public hearing on the topic will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Town Offices.

Select Board Chairman Lewis Sumner said a future vote will be conducted by Australian ballot.

"We haven't set the date but I think it will be at the primary (election) in August," he said. "We got the petition in January then we found out that it had to go through the Planning Commission. They had to have a hearing and the Select Board had to have a hearing before they could vote on it."

The petition was received by the board before new zoning regulations were adopted at annual Town Meeting in March. Sumner did not attribute those revisions, which were in the making at the time, to citizens' discontent.

Five percent of the town's voters had to sign the petition to bring the matter to a vote. About 550 people are on the voter checklist.

"I guess some people thought the zoning was too restrictive so they got a petition and got about 125 names on it," said Sumner.

Under the Vermont Municipal and Regional Planning and Development Act, the Planning Commission was then required to prepare a report about how the change would affect the town.

"Repealing the zoning bylaws would not conform with or further the goals and policies of the Halifax Town Plan. The zoning bylaws provide a means to ensure that the location, type and density of development are consistent with the districts described in the Town Plan. The zoning bylaws provide Halifax with a mechanism to ensure that more specific aspects of land use are consist with sound planning practice, providing for orderly physical and economic growth to further the goals of the Town Plan," the report said. "Without zoning bylaws, the exercise of one person's property rights without bounds or rules could subsequently diminish the privacy and property values of others."

The commission said abutters and other members of the community receive notification when development is proposed, "providing all involved with an open and public process to address both concurrence and concern associated with proposed development." The bylaws, the commission added, give the community "a framework to have a public discussion about proposed development and to apply standards that the voters have agreed upon by adopting the Town Plan."

The commission is worried that without the regulations, there will be "no mechanism available to ensure that development proceeds in an orderly fashion." That's what the Town Plan's 14th goal is all about.

"The repeal of the zoning regulation would stop the applications for Town of Halifax planning permits," the commission said. "Without these planning permit applications, the Zoning Administrator will not be informed about new construction in an orderly fashion. As a consequence of not having planning permits, the listers would not have a systematic approach to knowing about new construction projects."

Listers would have to "hunt out these projects," the commission said, and that will require more time and money. This could result in less property tax revenues for the town, according to the report.

With no zoning regulations, the commission said the town would no longer be eligible for the National Flood Insurance Program. And it would not qualify for state matching grants from the Emergency Relief and Assistance Fund.

But Sumner said there are towns that have flood insurance without zoning.

"Flood insurance is already in effect. That's a totally separate thing," he said. "You have to go through FEMA and we've been approved for that back in 2011."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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