Before she was hired in Wilmington, Herrick worked on zoning for seven and a half years in Brattleboro, but after nearly 15 years in the business, she feels it’s the right time to leave. “Zoning is not easy to understand or administer,” said Herrick. “There are some statutory requirements that take a lot of thought and effort and I think I’m just ready for a change.”
After Herrick made her announcement, DRB chair Nicki Steel thanked Herrick for her close, respectful, and dedicated work with the board, as well as her expertise in complex zoning laws. “You’ve always been quick to respond to what we need, and have done so willingly, and I wish you all the best,” said Steel.
There has been turmoil, however, within the position of late. Two months ago, Herrick filed a lawsuit against the town, as well as the custodian of its legal documents, town manager Scott Murphy, after she claims she was denied access to town documents following a public records request. Herrick asked for “all documents and records since September 1, 2011, regarding the operation of the town of Wilmington zoning office, or Tropical Storm Irene, or any actions of the zoning administrator.”
Herrick claims that these records are important in ascertaining whether the planning commission acted outside its authority during a recommendation process in January 2013 that saw her reappointment as zoning administrator put on hold. Herrick was eventually reappointed to her full-time status, but claims Murphy only partially responded to her request, and thus violated state statute.
Herrick would not focus on the lawsuit specifically but said that it would continue. Herrick also said she regretted her office and the planning commission’s inability to work better together over the past year. “It has added to the stress of the job,” said Herrick, “and I had hoped we would be able to achieve a better meeting of minds, and it hasn’t happened.”
Herrick served as zoning administrator during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, a trying time when a multitude of property owners in the village and the entire town were seeking permits to repair their buildings. At that time, the selectboard, the planning commission, the state, and the zoning office created an emergency ordinance to allow the quick issuance of zoning permits to those who needed them and to waive associated fees. Herrick describes this as one of her proudest moments working as zoning administrator. “I think that was essential to the short term,” said Herrick. “If we had to warrant and hold meetings the DRB would have spent all winter working on all of these buildings that were easy to permit anyway. When that six months ended and the permits expired, we had almost every property owner who came in and got a permit rebuild and I feel really good about that.”
Herrick finds more points of pride than regrets in her seven years working in Wilmington. Herrick is glad she was able to streamline the process of zoning, handing out permits within 15 minutes or within a 24-hour turnaround. Another achievement was her work in helping to rewrite the town’s zoning ordinance, especially the flood hazard section that was begun in 2007, as well as the town plan. Herrick said that the new zoning ordinance was much needed, but can be a double-edged sword. “It had two effects: first, the previous zoning was really vague in a lot of areas and it didn’t give the DRB guidance, and it has been really important to have specifics and better guidance and to have detail in there. But on the other hand, it’s become a lot more complicated with more performance standards, conditional use criteria, and purpose statements, and you have to go through and talk about each one even if they have no effect. It’s increasing the amount of time a ZA spends on it as well as the applicant and the board.”
Herrick said she feels it’s time to ease into some other work, including consulting, but also selling native lumber with her husband, cut at the mill they bought to build stalls for their horses. “I would advise the town to hire someone comfortable with talking to people and comfortable with reading carefully the zoning ordinance. It’s complicated, it takes patience, but there are those people out there.”
Speaking on behalf of the town, Murphy said he and the town wished her luck, and that the town would begin work on finding a replacement for the position that he described as “a difficult role, not a job where you make a lot of people happy.”