Commissioners are plotting the town plan
by Margo Avakian
Feb 14, 2013 | 907 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- The planning commission joined with the selectboard, a number of residents, and John Bennett, of the Windham Regional Commission, to determine the best way to proceed with re-writing Halifax’s town plan. A new plan is mandated by the state, but the state has refused, again, to fund the effort.

Bennett told the board that its proposed timeline for completing the plan “looks do-able and advisable.” He also commented that, according to state guidelines, the imminent expiration of a town plan is not a pressing reason to grant funding. Commissioner Linda Smith told Bennett that when she contacted the state to ask why the town’s application for funding was denied and how to proceed, she was told that the WRC might “do this pro bono.”

“She and I will have an interesting discussion about that,” laughed Bennett. “No, we can’t do it pro bono.” The WRC’s budget, he said, has also been reduced.

Bennett made some cost-cutting suggestions. A full suite of updated maps would cost $2,700, but “not all the maps are critical, required elements of the plan.” The cost of having WRC staff participate in meetings could be reduced by holding meetings in which no business but the plan is dealt with or by meeting in a location that required less travel cost for WRC staff.

Selectboard member Edee Edwards reminded Bennett that travel costs for town officials are also a drain on the budget. The planners were already aware of a need to hold extra meetings dedicated to the plan, and later in the evening they set dates for two such meetings.

They will meet on March 16 and again on April 6, both Saturdays, at 10 am. The first “brainstorming” session with the public will be held on March 12 at 7 pm. By that date, the board hopes to have received and reviewed comments they have requested from residents with expertise in the various areas covered by the plan.

Malcolm Sumner was asked to make recommendations on the agricultural policy section. Sumner was present at Tuesday’s meeting, and told the board that he objects to one policy in particular: “Require that development utilize nonagricultural or marginal agricultural land to the extent possible prior to or instead of utilizing active farmland or locally important agricultural land as identified by the Halifax LESA (Land Evaluation and Site Assessment).” Everyone present agreed that “require” should be replaced by “encourage.” After a discussion of the policy’s intent and the need to balance individual and community interests, Smith thanked Sumner for his input and urged him to get all his suggestions to the board in writing as well. Smith agreed to be the primary contact person for planning business; Bennett will serve as contact at the WRC.

Margaret Bartenhagen, one of the town’s representatives to the WRC, asked Bennett to speak on the issue of flood zoning. Currently, the town’s designated flood hazard zones are limited to the “inundation” hazard areas recognized by FEMA. There has been no mapping of “fluvial erosion” hazard zones, nor are such areas explicitly covered by zoning regulations. Inundation refers to the danger of rising waters spreading over the land; fluvial erosion is the sort of damage Halifax suffered along the Green River during Tropical Storm Irene from river waters ripping away soils.

Bennett said that the WRC has received a grant to assess fluvial erosion hazard areas along the Green River. “Field work should begin this summer,” Bennett said, with “data work” scheduled for next winter. Bennett noted that reducing fluvial erosion hazards is now a state priority, and that stressing the need for effective policies and ordinances in this area would probably boost the town’s chances of getting its next municipal planning grant approved.

Edwards asked about erosion hazard assessment along the North River. Agreeing that flood hazard mapping of that river is “incomplete,” Bennett said that the WRC has not yet succeeded in its efforts to get a grant to do that assessment. He urged town officials in the strongest terms to support an application for such a grant. Bartenhagen agreed to work with Bennett and his colleague Dinah Reed to determine how Halifax can best do that.

In response to a request for copies of the current town plan, Bennett said that PDFs of both the plan and zoning regulations are available on line at WRC.org. Zoning regulations are available on the town’s website.

Steve Towne brought up a “contradiction” in the current plan regarding the conservation district. Why, Towne asked, is “earth and mineral extraction” allowed in the conservation district? He noted that it appears that restrictions on extractive industry might be stricter in the rural residential district. Towne’s immediate concern was a proposal for a possible schist quarry within that district. Board members suggested that the intent of previous planners had been to preserve the possibility of sand and gravel extraction for town use. They also agreed that there are a number of ambiguities in the plan’s language that need to be clarified.

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