Town of Pittsford, Vermont

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Town of Pittsford

Special Select Board Meeting

August 21, 2006, 5:00 p.m.


Select Board members present: Allen Hitchcock, Joe Gagnon, and Dave Markowski.

Planning Commission members present:  Kathy Brown, and Thor Konwin.

Zoning Board members present: Stanley Markowski, Jack Shedd and Jim Morale.

Others present: Mike Balch, Aria Brissette and Helen McKinlay.  Chris Lekberg Ė Brandon Development Review Board Chairman arrived at 5:07 p.m.


M. Balch opened the meeting at 5:00 p.m. and stated he had included in the packets mailed to the Select Board, Planning Commission and the Zoning Board copies of the Administrative Duties from the State as a potential standard to operate for courts to accept findings of deliberative review boards.  S. Markowski stated he found this four page document was not very clear and felt a lawyer would be needed to help figure out this process.  M. Balch noted that in Brandon as they started out with this process a lawyer came in and ran a session to explain the standard to everyone.  The Administrative Duties Standard is pretty well established by the administrative procedures act and if you conform to it and give people those rights called for then the courts are very likely to support your position from a purely administrative point of view.  Chris Lekberg arrived at 5:07 p.m.  Brandon adopted the Development Review Board to become a designated downtown to be eligible for tax credits for the village area.  Other options to gain this designation would have been to adopt a Development Review Board/Design Review Board or to add a historic district with design controls.  Brandon has had a development review board in place for approximately three years.  C. Lekberg stated overall the Development Review Board works pretty well.  C. Lekberg stated the Planning Board had to rewrite the Brandon Land Use Ordinance mainly because of sub divisions. Brandon is now seeing people wanting to develop larger parcels of land for more housing units at a single time.  Currently the Brandon DRB is looking at a 70 acre parcel for development of up to 120 housing units with town water and sewer.   Parcel sub divisions will be ĺ acre size lots.  By doing this the parcel fits the town plan but makes for a very large development.  The overall development will be larger than Forrest-Brooks housing development.  M. Balch stated Pittsford currently does not have the sewer capacity for such large development.   


M. Balch stated he felt the major concerns of all of the quasi-judicial issues will now be in one basket.  Where this is easier on the consumer there are many concerns on how this will affect the board members.  C. Lekberg stated he was previously on the Brandon Zoning Board and didnít see a big change but there are more things that need to be looked at because of Act 250.  The DRB also have to be more careful with recordings to be sure they are clear and all parties can be heard.  Alternates on the board would be very helpful to enable board members to take a break or allow the DRB to operate with a full board when someone is out.  However, C. Lekberg cautioned that if there is a decision made by a partial board the applicant can say not having a full board affected the outcome of the decision.  The applicant may state that having the other members present may have swayed their vote and if they are able to prove this the decision automatically is changed in their favor whether youíve turned them down or not.  M. Balch noted there are three criteria under Act 250 as an elective decision which the town can take over as part of the DRB process though this is not required.  The town can decide to leave all of the Act 250 criteria for the State to review and act on.  Town decisions regarding Act 250 criteria may be over ruled by the State.  A. Hitchcock asked C. Lekberg to describe how the Brandon Planning and Zoning operated before the implementation of the DRB and the changes that have occurred since that time.  C. Lekberg stated that previously the Zoning Board would make decisions on variances and conditional uses then the Planning Board would make decisions pertaining to large developments.  Now the Planning Board is strictly for planning and not for projects.  Currently all projects are heard by the DRB.  Previously projects would informally ask the opinion of the Planning and Zoning Boards.  Now developers have to come in with a formal application and have a hearing for preliminary approval and then go to the State for final approval of Act 250 requirements.   Large development get the preliminary approval from the DRB and take the information to the State for the Act 250 hearing and then more finite information comes back to the DRB for final approval. 


C. Lekberg stated that the Town should first look at their land use policies to see if the Planning Commission needs to update the ordinance.  A. Hitchcock noted the Planning Commission is currently getting ready to update the Town Plan.  Since the new Pittsford Zoning Ordinance went into affect the work load split has increased for the Planning Commission.  This results in the Planning Commission getting tied up during meeting time in Site Plan reviews rather then being able to spend time on future planning.  C. Lekberg stated the work load for the Zoning Board in Brandon significantly changed with the implementation of the DRB but remains manageable for a volunteer board.  The Brandon DRB meets 2 or three times monthly and decisions must be complete within 45 days.  The Brandon DRB normally hears three hearings at one meeting.  Though they have heard up to 5 hearings in an evening.  The DRB with the help of the Recording Secretary write the required decisions.  S. Markowski commented the Zoning Board used to hear between 10 and 12 cases annually.  Since the Select Board and Planning Commission adopted the new Zoning Regulations the Planning Commission has put more of a work load on themselves that they didnít previously have.  This is the third time in recent months the ZBA has been asked to consider a town DRB.  If this is to alleviate the heavier work load from the Planning Commission and shift duties back to the Zoning Board then wouldnít an option be to make changes to the Zoning Regulation and readopt the Zoning Regulations instead of creating a DRB.  The Brandon DRB normally hears three hearings at one meeting, though they have heard up to 5 hearings in an evening.  The DRB with the help of the Recording Secretary write the required decisions. 


M. Balch stated C. Lekberg must leave right at 6:00 and suggested any questions be presented to C. Lekberg at this time.  D. Markowski asked if the town accepts the responsibility to look into Act 250 criteria for one applicant does that automatically result in having to do so for all applicants.  C. Lekberg responded yes but felt most of the applications seen in Brandon consisted of information the DRB felt the town wanted to look at such as impact studies for the school and municipality and how each project fits into the town plan.  Discussion followed as to how and when party status is established.  The DRB checks to see if the person meets the qualifications and makes a ruling on party status.  S. Markowski asked if the DRB as volunteers feel comfortable to take on the liability and responsibility of those decisions or if legal counsel was required to point the DRB in the right direction.  C. Lekberg stated the DRB makes the legal decisions and is backed up by the State. The Town of Brandon does retain an attorney and also VLCT will offer legal advice on state law.  C. Lekberg stated as the DRB you donít set any precedence by making a decision on one case or another.  By granting a variance for one applicant doesnít mean the next applicant will automatically have the same decision based on a precedence having been set.  C. Lekberg was asked as Chairman of the DRB if he was required to spend a lot of time prior to a hearing doing research and preparation for the hearing.  C. Lekberg stated he must rely on the Zoning Administratorís work and judgments on the applications.  The Brandon DRB consists of five members of which they are usually all present.  However there are times when they only have three members.  Without a quorum the DRB runs the risk of appeal because of not having a full board present at the hearing.  The applicant will be given the option to have the hearing postponed to a later date.  If the case is heard the DRB makes the best decision possible with the people you have at hand.  If the hearing is for a major issue or continuance of an ongoing hearing the hearing will be postponed to a later date.    


M. Balch stated the two big benefits from the Select Board point of view would be to allow the Planning Commission to spend its time on planning and bring the planning process to a higher level of expectation.  The second benefit would be the applicant not having to go to two different boards which may read the plans in different ways.  Aria Brissette is the Pittsford Zoning Administrator and she presently works part time.  M. Balch stated the budget allows for an average of 12 to 15 hours per week to be worked.  The Zoning Board work load has changed since the adoption of the new Zoning Regulations which require the Planning Commission to review site plan reviews.  Adding to the decrease in Zoning Board hearings are changes in fencing requirements.  At the present time the Zoning Board meets as needed mostly to act on Village conditional uses.    


M. Balch will obtain copies of Brandonís regulations, procedures and their new land use ordinance to be sent out to all three boards.  C. Lekberg stated from the applicants point of view they have been more receptive to the DRB as they appreciate only having to work with one board.  S. Markowski stated this may not make a big difference in Pittsford as most applicants seem to be one time shoppers and not in for major developments.    


M. Balch stated he had proposed to the Select Board to have someone here to explain the DRB process that has been doing it to give a clear picture of what the process entails.  By taking advantage of designated downtown or village status would allow businesses to not pay sales tax during reconstruction on repairs within the village area, makes Village residents eligible for low interest loans and provides an incentive to keep improving the Village.  These incentives allow keeping things centered in the Village and not sprawled outside the Village area.  D. Markowski noted Pittsford is a rural town and felt areas outside the Village should also be considered.  The fairness of a program to help build up the Village while the outer areas would be required to pay full price for the same rehabilitation was discussed.  Many residents do not qualify for agricultural loans.  Pittsford village does not consist of the same viable downtown business as Saint Johnsbury, St. Albans, Barre, Randolph, Bennington, Woodstock and many other Vermont towns with large downtown business districts.    


D. Markowski questioned when itís a cheaper and better alternative to tear down old buildings and start new.  D. Markowski asked if this might be a better use economically of our tax dollars on buildings that may have outlived their useful life because of structure, architecture or negligence.  S. Markowski stated the Village of Pittsford is different than other towns mentioned.  The Village is not built on flat land and the highway does the town no justice with a winding, up hill road.  Physically to look at Pittsford it doesnít match with Brandon.  Brandon has done a wonderful job redeveloping and qualifying.  Pittsford does not have the same type of situation.  Pittsford has a village but does not have a downtown central shop area.  C. Lekberg agreed at times they may be throwing good money at bad buildings.  Historical architectural significance was discussed.  C. Lekberg departed at 6:00 p.m.


The Select Board will make a decision as to where we go from here.  D. Markowski suggested getting testimony from the Planning and Zoning Boards with their input, concerns and recommendations.  M. Balch stated that if an ordinance is proposed a hearing will be required and at that time testimony could be heard.  M. Balch will copy and send out the statute for changing town ordinances to everyone.  J. Gagnon asked if both boards were satisfied and content as is or if they had recommendations and changes to be considered.  S. Markowski stated he didnít feel it was fair to speak for a seven person board with only three members present, which isnít even a quorum.  S. Markowski suggested the Select Board delegate a time for the three boards to meet and stated 5 p.m. is not a good time for most board members.  In past meetings the creation of a DRB added a fair amount of time and work load to the Zoning Board along with increased liability issues.  M. Balch stated statutorily there is no liability attached.  S. Markowski stated for the past 26 years on the Zoning Board they have been able to deal one on one and work with the residents of Pittsford.  Pittsford hasnít been constantly in the news like many other towns.  D. Markowski asked M. Balch to research if the financial applications and incentives to the village were available from federal, historic or grant dollars.   S. Markowski asked if people within the village were asking for grants, funds or low interest loans.  M. Balch stated no but if these were made available he was sure they would in the future.  M. Balch stated you will encourage work to be done in the village if you have the village designation because it costs less and there are tax benefits that come with it.  Tax credits and money with debt service allow for low income affordable/perpetual housing.  A. Hitchcock will see what the Select Board wants to do going forward and suggested it would be helpful if the Planning and Zoning Boards put thoughts down and agreed on concerns in writing that spells out the process in ways everyone will understand. 


The next Select Board meeting is September 6, 2006.  The ZBA and Planning Commission may need to hold special meetings for the purpose of discussing implementation of a DRB and send their opinions in writing to the Select Board.  A. Brissette will set up a meeting in September if this is how the Select Board decides to proceed.  M. Balch suggested board input within 60 days and no need to be on a fast track to enable boards to discuss at length in their next meetings. 


Without any further business, the meeting was adjourned at 6:18 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:

Helen McKinlay

Recording Clerk                                                             


Respectfully submitted:

Thomas ďHankĒ Pelkey, Chair - ABSENT

Allen Hitchcock, Vice-Chair 

Dave Markowski, Selectman

W. Joseph Gagnon, Selectman

Thomas Hooker, Selectman - ABSENT




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