By MADELINE HUGHES
A video recording and court documents illuminate the details of a recent ethics complaint filed against a Shelburne Development Review Board member that will be the subject of a public hearing on Jan. 9.
On Dec. 11, Dean Pierce filed an ethics complaint against Development Review Board Chair Jeff Pauza.
Pierce, who is director of planning and zoning, said he filed the complaint not as a town employee but as a private citizen. He said a comment that Pauza made in 2016 at a meeting of the review board represents “an unambiguous pre-judgment of the merits and constitute a conflict of interest” for an application by the developers of Shelburne Green.
In 2016, representatives of the commercial park along Route 7 south of the village approached town officials with plans that included a café but they did not specify which business would own and run it. Now, developers are back with a request to expand the footprint of Fiddlehead Brewing Company in the development and the café is part of those plans.
Two years ago, the developers’ request involving the café sought to have it open past 6 p.m., as laid out in earlier specifications for Shelburne Green. The applicant withdrew that part of the application when it became clear that the board would likely deny it.
“We will quietly acquiesce that at this time,” said Dave Marshall with Civil Engineering Associates at the March 2, 2016 meeting. The Shelburne News recently reviewed the videotape of that meeting. “That particular request is not going anywhere.”
Pauza replied: “Really? I was going to support it.”
Pierce quoted that statement by Pauza in his complaint to the Ethics Committee on Dec. 11.
Marshall goes onto say at the 2016 meeting: “The writing is on the wall, let’s drop it.”
The video shows that board members met the engineer’s withdrawal of the application with jest.
“I was looking forward to the debate,” Pauza said. Laughter ensued from other members.
“I figured you would have a whole room of people here,” board member Mark Sammut added with a chuckle.
Pierce said he came across the 2016 Pauza comment while reviewing his notes about the development. He says that exchange may point to Pauza having his mind made up about the issue which is back before the review board again.
Meanwhile, the Development Review Board is considering a new application from Shelburne Green that calls for a café run by Fiddlehead. The café hours would go past 6 p.m. – from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
So far, the DRB has agreed that the proposals filed by Shelburne Green, LLC meet the standard for what is called the Stowe Club Highlands doctrine and that the applicant can proceed with filing a preliminary plan application. Four of the seven DRB members – Pauza, Mark Sammut, Jeff Hodgson and David Hillman – approved the decision.
The Stowe Club Highlands doctrine relates to a 2013 project based in Stowe, a luxury homes development that sought to expand. When the developers first applied for permits, they did not foresee the growth the project would experience over time. They later asked the town to reevaluate the conditions of the project’s approval. The case went to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in Stowe Highlands favor.
Since then, the precedent has been used in considering other developments in Vermont. Shelburne Green cited the case in asking for extended café hours with the proposed expansion of Fiddlehead’s Shelburne brewery.
A neighboring homeowners association, the Gables Area Association, has weighed in by appealing that preliminary decision to the state Environmental Court Nov. 20. The neighbors take issue with the addition of the café and the timeframe it would be open.
The town has since filed a motion with the state Environmental Court to dismiss the appeal from the neighborhood group because the DRB’s decision is not yet final.
• The Development Review Board plans to take up the Shelburne Green, LLC application at its Feb. 6 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
• The Ethics Committee’s hearing regarding Pierce’s complaint is scheduled for Jan. 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Both meetings are at the town offices