The Charlotte Selectboard is still looking for ways to streamline the town’s planning and development process. Complicating things? Officials still aren’t sure what residents want their town to be.
The board is also looking at a switch from a zoning board to a development review board.
“From what I see, 75 percent of towns have a development review board system. I think largely because it consolidates all of the land-use requests to one board,” Matt Krasnow, chair of the selectboard, said. A development review board would consider conditional-use issues and what should be permitted, instead of having two boards translating regulations.
After much discussion, the selectboard decided to form a group, including town planner Larry Lewack, to explore the idea. The board also wants to continue the conversation about hiring a consultant to explore how Charlotte’s planning and zoning processes work, Krasnow said.
Planning commission chair Peter Joslin said the commission thinks it would be good idea to have an independent, objective entity look at the town plan and the permitting process.
“The planning commission doesn’t really have time to focus on the town plan,” he said.
Over the past two years, 95 percent of planning commission’s work has been considering requests to subdivide property, which pushes any discussion of what Charlotte wants to be or how to develop and implement the town plan’s vision to the back burner.
Board member Jim Faulkner said that the advantage of moving to a development review board “is it allows the planning commission to plan,” so it isn’t tied up considering “day-to-day” issues which a development review board would handle.
What does Charlotte want to be?
Joslin advocated for a consultant-led study because he isn’t sure what residents want Charlotte to be.
“The average house in Charlotte is over $600,000. Is that what the town wants?” Joslin asked.
Although the town plan encourages higher density development in village centers, voters defeated articles designed to increase development in East Charlotte Village at the March Town Meeting.
With more than 95 percent of development in Charlotte happening in areas zoned rural, Joslin also wondered if this is what residents want.
That conflict between what voters said at the polls and the town plan, according to selectboard member Frank Tenney, may be due to the failure of article 6, which would have reduced required lot sizes for new buildings in East Charlotte’s village commercial district from 5 acres to 1 acre.
Tenney said passage of article 6 could have resulted in unintended consequences, increasing residential development, instead of commercial, in East Charlotte, meaning smaller commercial lots could end up becoming homesites.
He wondered if reducing the lot size requirement in the larger village district would better direct residential development away from the area where planners want to concentrate business growth.
One piece of the solution is the hiring of a planning and zoning assistant. The selectboard and members of a committee working on filling this position went into an executive session.
After the board returned to public meeting, Krasnow said two candidates will be invited back for a final interview. After the interviews, he said the board will quickly convene a special meeting to decide who to hire.
Before hiring a consultant, Tenney suggested waiting until an assistant is hired.
Energy committee makes its case
At a recent Charlotte Selectboard meeting, energy committee chair Rebecca Foster objected to the small size of her committee’s budget and the large amount of scrutiny the spending of its budget has received. To make her point, Foster compared budgets for the energy committee to recreation department spending.
The energy committee’s budget this year was cut by $1,500 from the previous year, leaving it with a budget of $3,200. This amount was less than the amount the recreation department spent on software out of a total budget of $125,000, Foster said.
She admitted the recreation department did make back more than $62,000 in income — or half of what it cost the town.
“I love the recreation department. I’m just using it here as an example, so you get some budget perspective,” Foster said.
She also objected to how much the selectboard has discussed the energy committee budget for the last year: “If the attention of the selectboard were put toward the budget in a rational allocation, for every hour the energy committee budget was discussed, the recreation budget would be discussed for 38 hours. Or we could put it the other way around, for every hour of the recreation discussion, the energy committee would deserve about a minute and a half.”
The energy committee’s work in 2010 on conserving heating the town hall has led to 24 percent savings in annual heating or about 500 gallons of fuel oil per year, Foster said. Over 10 years the savings are about $15,000.
She said the design improvements the energy committee pushed for when the addition to the library was constructed means that building doesn’t use fossil fuels and is another example of money the committee has saved the town.
“Anyone genuinely concerned about taxpayers should be ecstatic at these savings,” Foster said.
Krasnow said it might help the budget process if the selectboard members weren’t blindsided by budget spending changes. One solution would be better communication from the two selectboard members who are liaisons with the energy committee.
And it would help if someone from the energy committee sent selectboard members an email when there were adjustments to how money was spent, he said.