MINUTES OF FRANKLIN PLANNING COMMISSION
TUESDAY, MAY 15, 2007, AT 7:00 P. M.
HOMESTEAD DINING ROOM
PRESENT: Dick Gadbois, David Lucey, Dan Larivee, Doug Clark (part of the meeting), Doug Bradford, Gregg Bouchard, John Giroux, Bill Mayo and Jamie Boudreau.
GUEST: Robert Irish, Zoning Administrator
Dick called the meeting to order at 7:02 p.m. and noted that we have a full slate of members present. He stated that he e-mailed the agenda to members this afternoon and hoped that everyone received it.
CHAIRMAN’S REPORT REGARDING ZONING ADMINISTRATOR’S REPORT:
Dick stated that one of the things that was requested and not received on a regular basis was a report of zoning permit activity from the Zoning Administrator. He circulated to members a copy of a report that he obtained during a recent visit to the Town Clerk’s Office. He advised that the information the Commission requested is available through that office and can be obtained by the ZA simply through “hitting a button”. He stated that he is in no way saying that the Town Clerk should provide the report to us; simply that the information is computerized and available through her office and would be extremely easy to get it to us every meeting or every other meeting if it is not updated monthly. It would certainly be better than going a long period of time without any notion of what is happening at all. Dick stated this information was also requested by the Selectboard as they were just as much in the dark as the rest of us. Doug Clark stated he feels that each member should get a copy of the report. Doug Bradford questioned our need for such a report. Dick stated that it would just give us an idea of what is going on in the town. He stated that he often travels past projects and wonders if a permit has been issued or if an illegal activity is taking place. He stated it is something we asked for and received only once and we will renew our request for it. It was noted that the information contained in this report is a matter of public record. Dick stated he certainly does not want anyone to make a copy of every permit application/approval, but this would give the Commission information on permit activity; and, if there was a question on a particular project, we could ask for further information. Doug Bradford asked if the information is available on line and Dick responded that nothing is available on line. Land records are not on line. Someone commented that the report Dick had is not current and Dick responded that he only brought it as an example of how simple it would be for us to get the information.
Dick informed members that he is going to ask everybody to be on a committee in addition to the zoning and planning. He stated these are issues that the Commission will have to address fairly soon.
1. Enforcement - ZA Oversight - He asked Doug Bradford, Jamie Boudreau and John Giroux to sit on this committee. He stated that we first need to meet with the Selectboard to find out who they want to supervise the Zoning Administrator. He stated that the statutes are not really clear on it and the Planning Commission probably has a little less on their plate than the Selectboard. Once the supervision aspect has been resolved, then we have to sit down with the Selectboard and come up with an enforcement policy. Dick noted that enforcement decisions are being made without input from the Selectboard or the Planning Commission. He noted that we have brought violations to the attention of the ZA over the past couple of years and no action was taken, the Cameron camp being on of them. Yet, letters that were perceived to be threatening in nature were sent out to eleven plus camp owners who were believed to be living year round in a seasonal residence. Dick asked Bob if anyone other than he saw the letters before they were sent out and Bob responded no. Dick stated we need a policy of enforcement, maybe starting with the most egregious to the least egregious It was noted that the letters that went out are contrary to the Town Plan and revised Zoning Ordinance we are presenting to the Select Board. It is felt that year round residences at the lake are beneficial to the town and we are no longer going to take the position that they should be discouraged or prohibited or anything of that nature. The more camps with cleaner septics, the cleaner the lake will be.
Discussion was held on recent ZBA decisions which turned down both Cameron camps for year round residences. It was noted that there is a conflicting opinion of the ZBA vs. the Planning Commission. Bill noted that as a legislative body it is within our power to write bylaws that are conducive to seasonal camps becoming year round residences. Dick cautioned against using the term “legislative body” when speaking of the Commission. We have the ability to promulgate certain ordinances and present them to the Selectboard, but in the end they are the ones who decide if they will or will not adopt them. Bill stated that 14 people were issued violations letters and at a meeting he attended recently, they were told that we are empowered as the Planning Commission and encouraged to write (if there are issues within the town that bring people before the ZBA over and over again) legislation so that it doesn’t come to that. It was noted that there has to be a policy of how we are going to prioritize enforcement and in what instances we are going to enforce it. Discussion was held on an enforcement matter that went to the environmental court that ruled there was a violation of 22 square feet. Dick questioned whether it is worth spending our tax dollars on that type of issue and, therefore, we need to set priorties. Dick suggested that the Committee might just meet with the Selectboard and see what they want to do. Statutes do not clearly define the responsibility. Jamie will speak with Selectboard members to see if they want to meet with the Planning Commission.
At this point in time, Doug Clark stated that he doesn’t feel that Jamie should be on this Committee. He questioned whether or not it is a conflict of interest. Dick responded that he does not see it as a conflict of interest. Often times we have people who “wear two hats” such as the Selectboard Chairman who is also in charge of the septic program. Doug Clark took exception to Dick’s response - expletives deleted - and he left the meeting stating he would bring this matter to the attention of the Selectboard. Dan Larivee questioned whether we should have a plan in place before we start the process.
Discussion turned to septics and Dick stated it will be up to the septic officer to figure out if the system is adequate to go from seasonal to year round. Under the rules that we intend to write, they have to have an approved septic system. It was noted that there are some who are polluting and thumb their noses at the regulations.
Discussion was held on the deterioration in the quality of the lake water. Dan Larivee pointed out that there are chemicals to treat this which are not harmful. It was pointed out that the Agency of Natural Resources would have to approve applications of this nature.
Concerns were expressed over the source of lake contamination and it was noted that one local farmer does little to prevent farm run off from going into the water. Gregg asked what can be done about such pollution and Dick responded that a complaint can always be lodged. He suggested contacting the Commissioner of Agriculture. Dan Larivee expressed his opinion that this matter will handle itself as he feels many area farmers will stop farming. Gregg disagreed and stated there are animals back on many of the farms that went out of the business. It was noted that one of the problems is that there are regulations in place, but no enforcement.
Bill Mayo questioned why it is better for Franklin to have its own septic regulations instead of going with State regulations. It was noted that Franklin and Colchester are the only two towns who are not using State regulations. It was pointed out that Colchester also has about six people working in planning. It was noted that the current State regulation is 18" and Franklin was using the old standard which was more strict. It was further noted that the new regulation has a five page permit application and an engineer is not going to do it for $200.
Discussion was held on updated property maps which will be needed. Jamie advised that Bruce Maitland will be selling his program/information/paper maps to the town for $350, but the town will have to purchase some software in order to bring the maps up to date.
The town has until July lst to have their septic ordinance in place. Bill again stated he would like someone to tell us the justification of not going with the State septic ordinance. It was also noted that Sue Clark will be assisting in the septic program as Peter’s assistant. It was noted that losing local control may be one of the driving forces. Bill questioned our rewriting the zoning regulations when we do not understand the septic regulations. It was noted that we have no control over septic regulations. Bill stated we don’t understand the rationale and he feels that we should talk to the Selectboard when we get together with them. It was pointed out that Peter Kittell is the person to ask. It was noted that part of the concern may be the lack of supervision by the State if they take over the septic program. Discussion was held on systems and back up systems. It was noted that previously, the ANR required systems that would handle a three bedroom home irregardless of whether the residence had less than three bedrooms. This was done to protect homeowners who might not think ahead. The ANR now has an entirely different philosophy, and if a homeowner wants to build a one bedroom home with a septic system adequate for a one bedroom home, then they will allow them to do so. They will also allow holding tanks and other innovative methods of disposing of septic waste. Discussion was held on mound systems, the need to have enough land for a replacement system and whether or not it is possible to repair these systems.
Dick asked if everyone is comfortable with Doug Bradford, Jamie and John serving on this committee. Jamie will arrange for a meeting with the Selectboard and determine who is responsible for supervising the ZA.
2. Violation Tickets - David Lucey and Doug Clark, if Doug returns. It was noted that it is time we explore this issue so that the ZA has something fairly easy to work with.
3. Signage - Dan Larivee, Bill Mayo and Gregg Bouchard. Dick noted that when you travel to Burlington you see a big red sign with an “X” so that there is no question that a permit has been obtained and we have need for something like that. If we have the signs, then when the ZA rides around (or we ride around) and sees a project with no signage, we need to report it. Otherwise, people are never going to take our zoning seriously. We just need a large sign that mounts on a building. Dick suggested contacting Burlington or Colchester. Dick stated that when a project reaches a certain point, then someone either the ZA or septic officer will need to go inspect before the project goes any further. It was noted that both Swanton and Highgate are well organized and Swanton has paid people.
REPORT ON MEETING WITH THE ZBA:
Dick stated that they had a meeting, but he had to leave and he asked Bill to brief the Commission on that meeting. Adrian Rainville, Bill, Peter, and Bob met to discuss the camp issues. They all agree that we should have a reasonable plan to allow conversion from seasonal to year round residences. Concern was expressed over recent ZBA rulings when we all are in agreement that year round residences benefit the lake. Discussion was held on requirements to build a new camp versus existing camps which are grandfathered. It was pointed out that not many of the existing camps can prove they have a functioning septic system. Someone stated there is a tablet that can be used to determine if the system is working and Bob pointed out that they do not work at the lake; something to do with the water table. Bob noted there is not really a conflict between the ZBA and the Planning Commission, but rather the ZBA has to base its decisions on the regulations in place, not on anticipated changes to those regulations. It was noted that the camps do not need a conforming lot; they need a good septic system. It was noted that one of the camps was denied because the lot size was too small and there was no parking. Dick noted that unless it is less and 1/8th of an acre that would not come into play. Bob noted it is less than 1/8th acre. It was felt that a lot of it will be sorted out when we draft the new ordinance. Dick suggested that those members with computers go on line and look at the Colchester site. It has all of its zoning online.
Dick stated that he does not think that resolving the seasonal vs. year round residence is a really pressing issue at this time. He asked Bob how many requests to change he has received lately and Bob responded only one with another one expected to come soon.
Doug Bradford questioned the composition of the ZBA. Discussion was held on the fact that many towns have combined their ZBA and Planning Commissions to form Development Review Boards (DRB). It was pointed out that the ZBA does not meet every month, but on an “as needed” basis. It usually meets five or six times a year, but it is possible that it would not meet at all. Discussion was held on people serving on more than one Board and it was noted that this is a small town with few people who are willing to volunteer. At times, a person may sit on more than one Board and it is not really a problem. They just need to recuse themselves if there is a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Dick noted that it is obvious that the Town Plan he had Sue copy is not the one we worked on. He will contact Greta at NW Regional Planning to get the one which was approved at the last meeting.
MINUTES OF LAST MEETING:
Will be acted upon at the next meeting.
Discussion held on enforcing of zoning violations. Dick stated this is something we are going to look into as a body to decide if it is something we want to do. We will have to run it by the Selectboard. It was decided that nothing will be done until after the Selectboard decides on supervision of the Zoning Administrator. At this point, the Planning Commission doesn’t want the ZA to do anything about the alleged violations at the lake. It was noted that Bob’s intent on the lake was to open a dialogue. It was noted that no fines are being levied. Bob has issued no tickets nor taken any enforcement measures. Motion by Bill/David that there be no enforcement on the lake at this time.
John stated he would like to see the Planning Commission get together with the Selectboard and put a plan of action into place that would address enforcement of all zoning violations, not just go after one type of violator (the lake). We need to start and treat every violation/violator the same. He feels we need to start by getting some type of enforcement system or “game plan” into place if we are going to enforce. It was noted that some people who received letters are very “stirred up” and we don’t want to get into a situation that will cost the town money.
Bob was questioned about the Cameron decision. He stated that he has not seen it. It was noted that it was made about two weeks ago. Both requests were turned down.
Doug Bradford stated that we were concerned about enforcement and now Bob has taken some steps and we are turning around and “putting him in the middle”. Dan agreed. It was noted that Bob is doing a good job and Gregg noted that it is a matter of opinion that the letter was threatening.
Discussion was held on other long standing violations which also need to be addressed. Discussion was held on the statute of limitations on zoning violations and Bob stated that it is 15 years. It was pointed out that all Bill’s motion is asking is that the status quo be maintained on the alleged lake violations until we get the answers to our questions. The Commission is in agreement that people should be allowed to live year round at the lake if they can demonstrate that they had adequate septic systems.
Various factors affecting the lake were discussed - lot sizes, road frontage, parking and current standards. It was noted that our regulations mainly apply to new construction not to existing “grandfathered” structures.
Bob stated that he feels if we want the people at the lake to “come around” with adequate septic systems, we are going to have to offer them the carrot of year round use.
Dick called for a vote on the motion made by Bill/David. Bill, David, John, Jamie and Gregg voted in favor. Dan and Doug Bradford voted against.
It was noted that until the regulation is changed this is not going to change anything. We now have three sub-committees, at least one of which will address many of the questions we have. It was noted that right now Bob is in “limbo” and we first need to clarify the supervision issue before we can proceed with how to accomplish enforcement. All the motion is doing is holding enforcement in abeyance until we have the answers to the questions.
Dick asked members if there was any other business they wanted to bring before the Commission and there was none.
Motion by David/Bill to adjourn. All members in favor. Meeting adjourned at 8:25 p.m.
May 24, 2007 Barbara M. Varin
NOTE: These minutes are not official until approved by the Planning Commission at their next regular meeting which is scheduled for June 19, 2007. Note: These minutes were approved by the Planning Commission at their June 19, 2007 meeting.