Wilmington land owners weigh in on new legislation


WILMINGTON -- Grappling with the question of whether the town should handle permitting for a new law that will limit development along water, representatives from lake associations were last week invited to a special meeting aimed at gathering public input.

Municipal delegation for the Vermont Shoreland Protection Act is an option for towns with bodies of water deemed large enough.

"The majority of the towns are keeping it in the law’s hands." said Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy.

The law seeks to protect areas within 250 feet of the mean water level of a lake by creating buffer zones that require additional permits for construction projects. Trimming trees and building fire pits also may require permitting.

John Meyer, of the Lake Raponda Association, told the board the association does not have the ability to intervene and does not act in any governing way. He recalled only one time where the association received party status for an Act 250 hearing.

"That was an association of concerned neighbors rather than a body of governing ability," he said.

His concern regarding the new law had to do with what projects would now require a permit.

"I think that’s going to remain a concern until this settles out. If we had a local permitting process, I could find out, where I might have a little bit of trouble finding the same information from the state," said Meyer. "I would suspect enforcement is a bigger issue when someone doesn’t have a permit rather than enforcing once a permit’s been issued."

Bob Reynen has owned a home on Lake Raponda for 28 years. He supported a local permit process.

"We would come to the town for a permit. That would be for a relations standpoint," said Reynen. "We’re coming to our own people rather than going to the state."

He said he also leans more towards having enforcement taken care of locally.

"I think you can work things out or mediate things amongst ourselves rather than go to the state," Reynen continued. "We’ve had a turnover of families and some new families. Overall, I think things that are going on are good. They’re renovating older homes and they’re careful with what they do."

Before leaving her seat on the Selectboard, Meg Streeter had written a letter on behalf of the town opposing the act before it was passed. She owns a real estate company in town and has an alternate position on the Development Review Board.

"I think it would be good if we could keep it a local process. It seems it would be much more fast moving," she said. "There’s so much that goes to the state already with land use. It just seems like it wouldn’t be an overwhelming number of permits with the lakes."

There are four bodies of water in Wilmington that fall under the law -- Harriman Reservoir or Lake Whitingham, Lake Raponda, Spruce Lake and Haystack Pond. In order to fall under jurisdiction, the water must be more than 10 acres.

Not all Wilmington’s waters will require close watching. Lake Whitingham is owned by TransCanada, which has not allowed development along the shores and historically has handled enforcement. Haystack Pond is protected by National Forest standards.

No one representing the Spruce Lake Association was at the meeting.

"We had difficulty reaching someone from there," Murphy said. "We reached out with some phone calls with people we thought were involved in it but didn’t receive any response."

Previously employed in New Hampshire towns, Zoning Administrator Craig Ohlson had experience with a similar law. New Hampshire and Maine approved laws to protect lakes before Vermont did.

"I am open to keeping it local," he told the board. "It helps the residents as far as permitting. As far as enforcing it, I’d have to defer it to you. I could take it or leave it as far as enforcing."

Selectboard member Susie Haughwout worried about situations where development occurs without a permit.

"I’m not really interested in having to deal with those people," she said. "More of that has happened on Harriman."

According to state Sen. Bob Hartwell, the town could draft its own ordinance as long as it was functionally equivalent to state law. A model ordinance was available from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that could be used and a memorandum with ANR would have to be signed.

"That model ordinance is sufficient for a town to take," he said. "The agency plans to check in with towns periodically. I’m not sure how they’re doing that."

Hartwell told the board ANR was very interested in towns taking over as it would take some pressure off the agency, but at any time the town could hand the responsibility off to ANR. In wake of the new law, additional staff was hired at the agency.

One option the town could choose would put the town in charge of permitting and ANR would handle enforcement. An allegation of a violation of a permit would then be enforced by the agency, Hartwell said.

Appeals regarding applications issued by the town would be treated the same as permits traditionally issued through the zoning office. An appeal on a permit would go to Environmental Court.

Hartwell said if the town enforces the law, the town would keep money collected through fines, whereas if ANR enforces, the state would keep that money. Before leaving, Hartwell also suggested that a representative from the state could come and discuss municipal delegation with the Selectboard.

Murphy told the Reformer he would put the topic on the agenda for the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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