WILMINGTON- Selectboard members took public comment on proposed zoning changes during a hearing at their regular meeting Wednesday evening, and discussed financial matters briefly.
Interim town manager Gretchen Havreluk said that, although the official numbers aren’t in yet, it appears the town managed to end the year in the black. The town had been faced with ending the year in deficit because of a tax revenue shortfall. But it was an early payment from a delinquent taxpayer that boosted the town out of the red. “The Hermitage made their July tax payment on June 30, which was a big help,” Havreluk said. “We ended the year about $10,000 in the black.”
A number of the proposed changes in the amendment would clarify and strengthen existing regulations, including waiver criteria, nonconforming structures and lots, as well as bring certain existing zoning language into compliance with state law. But the proposed zoning amendment would also expand the village district, adding design review criteria to East Main Street properties and other areas in the proposed expansion. The expanded zone would not be subject to historic review, however.
At the hearing, former development review board chair Nicki Steel expressed concern that some of the changes followed an ongoing pattern of increased oversight of land use, and a loss of property rights. In particular, she singled out a proposed change that would require property owners in the village district, including the proposed expanded portion of the district, to get “written permission” from the DRB for “removal of natural features, shrubs, hedges or trees.” Steel said the proposed new rule was overly restrictive.
“We’re talking about people’s private property. They shouldn’t have to pay to go to the DRB for that. There has been a gradual shift over the 22 years I’ve been involved in zoning. There’s more oversight and more invasiveness.”
Planning commissioner Cheryl Rothman said the landscaping rule was requested by people who were concerned about a large tree that was cut by a Main Street business owner.
East Main Street resident Laurie Boyd expressed concern about the increased regulation. “If I want to cut my lilac bush, I want to cut it without getting a permit,” she said. “That is my property. That is a burden. Stuff like that bothers me.”
Steel also questioned a proposed return to regulation of paint colors in the historic district. “A long time ago, people had to paint their buildings certain colors in the historic district, and it was a longstanding bone of contention. It was taken out and now it’s back in, but not only are there certain colors, it has to be historically appropriate for that style of architecture. I’m not sure how many people know what colors are appropriate for a certain style of architecture.”
Local business owner Adam Grinold agreed with Steel’s concern about creeping property regulation, but noted that some of the changes were driven by state law. He said that the proposed changes were hard for people to access, without a “redline” version of the ordinance showing the proposed changes alongside the current language. Although the planning commission released a statutorily-required report on the changes, few explanations are included in the document and changes that impact every village property owner, such as the requirement for written permission before making changes to “natural features,” were referred to only in a list of subsection numbers.
“To understand what these changes are, you have to have the experience Nicki has, and not many have that,” Grinold said.
Planning commissioner Wendy Manners said the changes had been tracked in a “redline” version, but eventually became too complicated to be useful. She also noted that the commission met its legal requirements, and urged local residents to attend the commission’s public meetings and hearings. “We’ve spent a year on these changes, and we can’t hold your hand to show you all the changes.”
But Manners agreed that determining the overall scope of zoning goals was within the selectboard’s purview.
Wilmington Works Program Coordinator Meg Staloff noted that the idea behind the proposed expansion of the village district was to expand the town’s Downtown Designation. The move would increase opportunities for commercial property owners to access benefits such as tax credits for facade improvements or ADA accessibility. It would also mean the town would be eligible for certain grant programs for projects such as pedestrian pathways.
But Staloff noted that some residents of the expanded district would not have access to the benefits, and would face an increased burden for the cost of certain permits. She suggested the board consider waiving permit fees for residential property owners in the village district for a period of two years.
Board members closed the hearing, and said they would discuss the changes and the public input in a future meeting.
In other matters, the board approved an increase in the town’s events fund, bringing the total available for the year up to $40,000. Havreluk noted that the amount the board had already committed for the year, $27,450, has exceeded the budgeted $20,000 events fund. Havreluk requested the board increase the budget to $35,000, but board member Ann Manwaring offered a motion to increase it to $40,000. “We have a huge amount of money in the 1% (local option tax) fund, and it’s not appropriate not to spend it,” Manwaring said.
After other board members expressed concern about expanding the fund too quickly, Manwaring amended her motion to $40,000 for the current year only. The board will set future budget amounts during their annual budget discussions.