Public Hearing on Zoning Bylaw changes scheduled for Feb. 9

Over the course of the last several months, the Planning Commission has been considering clarifications requested by the Development Review Board on several aspects of the zoning bylaws. Having completed their work on five of these issues, the Planning Commission voted to warn a public hearing on Feb. 9 for proposed changes relating to sidewalk and path requirements; regulation of trailers and storage of waste; regulation of sign lighting; setbacks from private rights-of-way; and excavation and fill requirements. This action was taken at their meeting on Jan. 12.

Becky Castle and Bob Clark, the owners of Fisher Brothers Farm on Spear Street, appeared before the Planning Commission to discuss the zoning bylaws related to integrated agriculture, which is considered a conditional use in the rural district and therefore subject to review by the Development Review Board. At present, only two enterprises in Shelburne – Shelburne Vineyard and Bread & Butter Farm – have permits under this bylaw for these activities. Castle outlined four issues with the existing bylaw that she would like the Planning Commission to review and amend. These are:

Specifying a “trigger” for when the need for DRB review would be required. Planning Commission Chair Jaime Heins opined that the trigger was whenever agriculture property owners began to engage in secondary integrated agricultural activities which are defined in the bylaw as (a) sales of non-farm products related to those grown on the farm; and/or (b) hosting of educational and cultural events incidental for farming or the farm’s activities.

Regarding the distinction between “primary” and “secondary” activities, Castle noted that in some cases there is no clear delineation between the two. In their case, they grow berries which are then made into jam and ice cream. If an educational activity included reaping the berries, a “primary” activity, and then making jam or ice cream from them, a “secondary” activity, how, and perhaps more importantly, why would farmers have to make a distinction between the two?

Castle also objected to the requirement to provide, upon request, gross revenue from each activity. Castle stated that no other businesses are required to submit financial reports. She added that primary activities are usually more labor-intensive than secondary activities and that revenues do not reflect that fact. Commissioners appeared to agree with Castle on this point, suggesting that requiring only percentages of revenue or labor for each activity would be an adequate measure.

Regarding listing specific products and services that would be provided, Castle noted that farming is a fluid business, dependent on public demand and crop success, and making long-term projections is difficult. Commissioners seemed to agree that a more lenient requirement, such as listing the intended products and services, would be sufficient.

Commissioner Kate Lalley suggested that the commission focus on how the activity was taking place because the real concern is the impact on neighbors, such as noise and/or increased traffic. This point was echoed by Gail Albert, part owner of Shelburne Vineyard, and by Dave Marshall of Civil Engineering.

Commissioner Ann Hogan stressed that the town should be promoting integrated agriculture rather than discouraging it, and said that requiring financial reports was not appropriate.

The Commission will give further consideration to the issues raised by Castle and Clark at a future meeting.

The Commission then reviewed a draft informational booklet on “Housing in Shelburne,” prepared by the Housing Subcommittee. Commissioner Mark Brooks, a member of the Housing Subcommittee, said the intent of the booklet was to quantify the type of housing that exists in Shelburne and to identify trends. Commissioner Hogan recommended using the number of occupancy permits issued instead of building permits, because occupancy permits actually reflect what has actually been built and will be used for housing. Commissioners made several other editorial suggestions and praised the Subcommittee for their work.

Commissioner Jaime Heins announced that no Planning Commission meeting will be held on Jan. 26. The next meeting will be on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 7pm in the Municipal Center.

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