Dummerston considers zoning-law changes

Tuesday November 13, 2012

DUMMERSTON -- What constitutes a "special event," and how should those events be regulated?

Dummerston Planning Commission is taking public comment on possible answers to those questions at a public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight at Dummerston Community Center, 156 West St.

Also on the agenda are several other zoning-bylaw changes. Ultimately, it will be up to the Dummerston Selectboard to decide whether to adopt the amendments.

"This is a time for residents of Dummerston to comment on the proposed amendments before the planning commission decides whether to recommend them to the Selectboard," said Sam Farwell, who chairs the commission.

Officials are not proposing any changes to Dummerston’s zoning map. Rather, these are amendments to the zoning bylaws that are authored by the planning commission and enforced by the town’s development review board.

Special events are a big topic. Farwell said one proposed amendment creates a new land-use category for special events and defines them as "situations where a property is used for an event, such as a wedding reception, for a fee."

"All private parties would be exempted," Farwell said in an e-mail to the Reformer. "Also exempted would be activities on farms that are already permitted under agriculture or agri-tourism. New definitions for these uses are included in this amendment as well."

The amendment also addresses who should regulate special events. For logistical reasons, that responsibility is given to the Selectboard, not the development review board.

"Because of the temporary nature of an event, the commission decided that obtaining a conditional-use permit through DRB review was too time-consuming a process and not necessary for something that may only last for two days or an afternoon," Farwell said.

"The Selectboard, which already issues liquor licenses for such events, meets more often and has the flexibility to make decisions on issues more quickly than the DRB."

Three other amendments are proposed:

-- A section regarding waivers is similar to an existing regulation on zoning variances, Farwell said.

"It is a procedure for allowing someone to apply for an exception to the dimensional requirements in the bylaws, such as the building-setback minimum," Farwell said. "While the criteria for getting a variance are set by the state statutes, the state legislature created waivers so that the towns could set their own criteria and offer residents more flexibility than variances."

-- An amendment governing "unspecified uses" would allow the town’s development review board to grant a permit for a land use that is not specifically allowed by zoning bylaws.

"Currently, the bylaw states that, if a use is not explicitly listed as allowed in a zoning district, then it is prohibited," Farwell said. "However, it is hard to anticipate all the appropriate land-development uses for each district, and there may be times when an applicant has a proposed use that would be acceptable but is not listed in the bylaw."

This situation has arisen in recent years in permit applications from businesses on Route 5, Farwell said. The amendment gives the review board discretion to consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

-- The final amendment is a clerical correction: Farwell said a single sentence about fences mistakenly was omitted when a zoning bylaw was amended last year.

The planning commission also is accepting written comments on the amendments until Friday. Those can be e-mailed to planning@dummerston.org or mailed to the town office.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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