In 2013, the Planning Commission proposed a new zoning district at the floody, high water table confluence of Clay Brook, Steinhour/Mill Brook, Crane Brook and Browns River in Underhill Center. The wise voters of Underhill rejected all of the zoning changes proposed that year.
We need to do it again...
Vote NO on ARTICLES 9 & 10
The proposed changes upzone along River Road and Pleasant Valley Road, making the minimum lot size smaller, which results in more driveways, more parking area, more buildings, more water wells, more septic systems -- in possibly the worst possible location for development, the intervale of Underhill Center.
There is also downzoning, which is a form of taking, for the rest of Underhill.
It reflects a constant regulatory churn, spinning a revolving door of consultants, that feeds a growing bureaucracy and is ripe for abuse by rent-seeking developers who have the patience and perseverance to work the machinery of government. Consider the change to the zoning district boundary along Beartown Road.
This all goes back more than a decade, way more...
Once upon a time, the good people of Underhill established critical area zoning. Unlike other towns, which zoned against use, Underhill based its zoning on the unchanging natural features of the town. You read that in the titles of some of the zones (Water Conservation, Soil & Water Conservation, etc.) and in the purposes of the zones. We have the unusual situation in Underhill Center of larger minimum lot sizes at the intersection of roads and rivers, while smaller minimum lot sizes exist along the hill sides. That is because the intervale and aquifer recharge area are not good places to build roads, houses and septic systems. In this respect, Underhill is different from all other towns. Read the Town Profile for a discussion of the history of zoning in Underhill.
The current Planning Commission has forgotten all about this. On October 7th the Chair of the Planning Commission was asked about the age and history of the Water Conservation zoning district that she was proposing to change. She had no idea, and thought it was only a few years old, referring the question to surprised fellow commission members David Edson and Carolyn Gregson, asking if they remembered setting up the district. Carolyn was a child at the time. The zoning districts in Underhill have been stable since their establishment in the 1960s.
Underhill's development review from the 60s on could be described as "anything is possible, but everything is conditional." That's why Underhill could have ski areas in town, and woodworking shops or car repair places -- or a school -- out in the woods. If something was reasonable, it was allowed. It did not rely on a long table of uses. This approach served Underhill very well for decades.
Then, around 2005, our formerly concise town plan and zoning/development regulations started to get the consultants' treatment. Now there are more than 300 pages between the two documents. Nobody has the time or capacity to read them -- not even the Planning Commission and the Development Review Board. These documents demonstrate the awkward expansion that comes from planning consultants who cut and paste text as they move from one job to the next. Documents develop unnecessary repetitions, subtle loopholes, and internal contradictions.
Such documents are ripe for exploitation by the one group that does have time to digest and use the regulations to advantage, real estate speculators.
Underhill Center, really Underhill Waterlogged...
The area of Underhill Center where the up zoning is proposed, at the confluence four streams and Browns River has a history of flooding and high water table. It is possibly the worst the place in town for new development. Flooding in the town office vault, and reliance on a sump pump under the front stairs at Town Hall, ought to be indication enough that there's trouble underground. Or, look in the back yard of the late Underhill Country Store, at its elevated, "best fix" septic treatment structure. The reduced minimum lot size that is proposed for the Underhill Center intervale could create new lots with new rights to construct such less than ideal wastewater systems.
No amount of minimum lot size shrinkage is going to change the fact the many of the houses in the Underhill Center intervale are on lots that are too small, with too little room for a replacement leachfield, an enlarged front porch, or even a new shed. Maintain existing is what these buildings of the past should aim for. The buildings have survived these many years from plain old maintenance. smaller minimum lot sizes will not improve their prospects.
It's not what was promised...
In 2013, the Planning Commission could have taken the no votes seriously and begun proper investigation and planning effort. If they had done so we would see such things as a land capability study, stormwater study, sewer study, utility study, vernacular study, design standards, planning charrettes, traffic studies, public investment planning, and study of the riparian area along Browns River.
Instead, they have a colorful spreadsheet based on looking at air photos and a property tax map. There's a reason that these maps carry disclaimers and warnings about their accuracy. They are not sufficiently accurate to measure the setbacks and dimensional requirements of this area. The only way to really know is to get out in the field with a surveyor with good technique and good equipment.
The 2015 Town Plan called for an overlay with relaxed setback standards. This is reasonable. It also called for an alternative variance process -- also reasonable. But the Planning Commission didn't do that.
Instead it focused on a new district with smaller minimum lot sizes. The 2018 proposal is the same as in 2013: a new zoning district, smaller minimum lot sizes, shrouded in breathless concern about dimensional standards. Don't buy it. The Planning Commission gambled that Underhill voters would forget about 2013, hoping that voters would accept a well-oiled pitch in place of the hard work of good planning.
Unfairness to the rest of Underhill
The difference between conditional use review before the DRB and permitted use non-review is an important distinction. While the upzoning to the new district with reduced minimum lot sizes, it also increases permitted uses for impermeable surfaces and multi-family buildings, the proposed zoning changes eliminate the possibility for conditional multi-family buildings everywhere else. This would be a blow against responsible development. as it means that most every area will eventually be carved into single-family lots, with all of the attendant roadways, wells, septic systems, etc. It also removes flexibility for the adaptive reuse of existing buildings. The Planning Commission has forgotten the Underhill tradition of "anything is possible, but everything is conditional." And it has also failed to understand the negative consequences of its proposal, and avoided applying imagination to work on the many other ways that it could serve the town, as described in the Town Plan.
Indeed, the Planning Commission has done much to undermine the future of Underhill Center, by underinvesting in public facilities, and failing to plan for area walking and road design.
If we allow this to continue...
Continued massaging of an ungainly, unreadable regulatory mess is awarded a special label by political scientists: turd polishing.
The stability of Underhill zoning districts is an important to fairness that has lasted many decades. Any time zoning district boundaries move or zoning requirements change someone is getting a gift or having something taken away. That's the crap shoot of living in other towns. For decades it's been different in Underhill, where stable zoning means predictability and little opportunity for rent seeking manipulation of town government. That is until the Planning Commission started massaging the zoning districts. As in 2013, it is a Pandora's Box. Already there is lobbying for reducing minimum lot sizes in other areas of town.
Vote for fairness, stability, and an end to machinations.
Vote NO -- again -- on ARTICLES 9 & 10.