During a four-hour-long meeting, the Charlotte Selectboard approved the formation of a Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday, Oct. 25.
The approval came after four months of often intense debates between residents and town officials over whether or not the town should establish move from its traditional Zoning
Board of Adjustment/Planning Commission (DRB/PC) model to a DRB structure.
“This is the fourth public meeting that we’ve talked about this,” Chairman James Faulkner said at the beginning of the meeting. “That being said, we have spent quite a bit of time and money trying to figure this out.”
When asked during public comment, neither Chairman Faulkner nor any member of the board would specify how much money the board spent on implementing a DRB.
At the previous regular meeting on Oct. 18, board member Matt Krasnow made a motion for the town to establish a DRB.
The motion was tabled until the Oct. 25 meeting for the board to conduct a further review on the motion.
However, at the Oct. 25 meeting, Krasnow withdrew his original motion, which he said was from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Krasnow instead made a new motion, which is not available online in the meeting packet on the town’s website.
“Since last week, the town attorney has been looking at crafting a more specific and thorough resolution for the town,” Krasnow said. “The one that I presented for a motion for discussion last week was a boilerplate [motion]. Jim worked with the town attorney to come up with something specifically crafted for Charlotte. He sent it out to the selectboard when it was ready.”
“We’ve had three days to look at this,” Vice-Chair Frank Tenney said in response. “I received it, but there are a lot of things on it that weren’t discussed and there are things I would like to say.”
The board proceeded to spend the next seven minutes debating how to withdraw the previous motion, which they eventually did after a motion from Tenney and a second from Krasnow.
Krasnow’s motion was seconded by Faulkner, who said that the December 15 date for the establishment of the DRB would be advantageous for the town in having “plenty of time” to vet applications for membership to the board.
However, Vice Chair Tenney said the town was moving too fast in establishing the DRB.
“When we did the West Charlotte Village Wastewater, we went through and got an advisory motion to look into it,” Tenney said. “We didn’t do that with this. [With the West Village Wastewater], we formed a board and went through the whole process. Now we have septic in the West Village. It was a process that took time. I don’t remember when any of us came together and decided how many members are going to be on this board, where they are coming from, and how to choose the people that are going to be on this board. I am worried that things are moving a little too fast for what’s going on.”
Tenney said that “I would like to see something happen a little bit more open” and suggested that the selectboard put the question about whether or not the town should form a DRB to residents through a town vote.
He also added “you are trying to push something through that hasn’t been discussed as a board” when it comes to any potential changes in the roles of the town’s planning department.
Board member Lewis Mudge said he disagreed with Tenney and that he supports the formation of a DRB.
“I think changes in the land use regulations do have to be voted on by the town,” Mudge said. “But we certainly have been advised that it is well within our prerogative as a selectboard to make this move. My take is this, from someone who is not a zoning specialist, who has been trying to listen to both sides of this. My take is that we have been elected by our townspeople to this position for instances like this. To take these decisions, and to get into the weeds. I have spent more hours on this stuff than I ever thought I would. I do think that this is a moment now for the selectboard to make a decision. Elections have consequences. If people feel strongly enough that we made the wrong choice, well there are two seats already up in March. I think advocating every time to a town vote on these thorny issues will begin to question the relevance of a selectboard.”
“I feel like we have done a thorough job soliciting input from experts and the community,” Krasnow said. “I think it’s been well covered in the news. I would be shocked if someone didn’t know that this issue was happening in the town and we are exploring it. For me, there’s no better democracy than direct democracy and having the voters weigh in individually on an issue. That is an issue of town importance. I think what we are looking at in this switch to a DRB from a ZBA boils down to administrative change. That’s something the selectboard works on. The state statutes that govern the powers of selectboards in Vermont give that authority to the selectboard and don’t require a town vote for it. It’s a direction from the state statutes that are leading me to believe this is a selectboard issue and that the town has voted the selectboard to represent them.”
Krasnow also voted for his resolution, along with selectboard member Louise McCarren.
“I started not understanding this,” McCarren said. “Like all the rest of you, I spent a lot of time making sure I did understand it. At the end of the day, my conclusion was that what we’re doing here is administrative. We’re taking two functions that are now housed in planning, which are site review and subdivision approval, and we’re moving those over to zoning. Conceptually from an organizational point of view, it’s a good thing.”
While Mudge, Krasnow, McCarren all issued support for the motion, by the end of the discussion Tenney still expressed his reservations and voted against it.
“The time frame for me is too quick and too fast to adjust to the zoning bylaws,” Tenney said. “We’re in the middle of a budget season and we have a lot of things to do. We have had four meetings this month. And yet, you wanted to interview for these positions. This is too quick for me. I wouldn’t do anything until next year.”
The vote was four to one, with Tenney voting against the motion.