Two ZBA members are done; also, DRB or ZBA?

Breaking news: two ZBA members are out; plus, there could be a new town board in the works.

Zucker and Bennett are out: ZBA members aren’t coming back

Chea Waters Evans

Two Zoning Board of Adjustment members are finishing their time on the board sooner than anticipated. Vice Chair Stuart Bennet and ZBA member Matt Zucker gave notice to the Selectboard via email earlier this week.

On Wednesday at 8:42 p.m., Zucker emailed the Selectboard and his ZBA colleagues after their regularly scheduled meeting. “I am resigning from my volunteer role on the ZBA effective immediately, in order to focus more time on personal and professional responsibilities,” he wrote. “Thank you for the opportunity to serve our town in this capacity for the past ~5 years.”

Bennett emailed the Selectboard before the Wednesday meeting just after 4:30 p.m. He wrote, “I am withdrawing my earlier request to be reappointed to another 3-year term on the ZBA. I have served on the ZBA for 6 years, and I hope that my contributions have been positive. But the prospect of serving for another 3 years is just not a good fit for me any longer. I will miss the integrity and sense of humor of my ZBA colleagues and the staff of the Zoning Office. They are a good group.”

Neither Zucker nor Bennett responded to a request for comment.

Bennett’s three-year term was nearly complete, and Zucker had two more years left on his current term. The Selectboard will choose a replacement who will serve until April 2023 when Zucker’s original term ends. The ZBA will elect a new vice chair after the new members are appointed.

Zoning board members are appointed by the Selectboard. If there’s more than one interested person, the Selectboard interviews potential candidates during a meeting and then deliberates privately about whom to appoint.

At a meeting two days prior to Wednesday’s ZBA meeting, the Selectboard opened a discussion about replacing the ZBA with a Development Review Board, which would assume all of the ZBA responsibilities as well as take on some of the Planning Commission’s duties.

DRB instead of ZBA? TBD.

Chea Waters Evans

Currently there are two municipal groups that make decisions regarding planning and zoning in Charlotte: the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission. On Monday, the Selectboard discussed potentially forming a town Development Review Board, which would replace the ZBA entirely and siphon some responsibilities away from the Planning Commission. The change would mean a shift in decision-making power in a town that has historically struggled with maintaining standards for the character and pace of development.

During the April 12 Selectboard meeting, Chair Matt Krasnow said that creating a DRB would improve efficiency in the planning process. He said the issue came to his attention because “it took…8 years to get a five-year town plan update completed.” The state-mandated plan re-adoption took so long, he said, in part because the PC had so many other responsibilities on their agenda. The state requires the PC to update the Town Plan every five years.

Essentially, the DRB would do everything the current ZBA does: grant conditional use permits, decide on waiver requests, and rule on variance requests. The Planning Commission in Charlotte is responsible for a broader scope of work, including long-term planning; currently, they also approve permits for subdivision requests and boundary adjustments. The DRB would absorb those two permitting functions so the PC can focus on long-term planning. The state of Vermont began allowing municipalities to form DRBs in 2003; members are appointed by the Selectboard.

In an email to The Charlotte Bridge, Krasnow wrote that Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin originally approached him with the idea of forming a DRB. The reasons he supports looking into forming a DRB, Krasnow said, are threefold. If the PC had fewer planning approval-related decisions to make, they would have more time to complete state-mandated Town Plan updates and more deliberately develop Land Use Regulation amendments. Krasnow also noted that the Selectboard has a majority of new members since the last time Joslin broached the idea of a DRB, and he would like this group to “compare the current model to a DRB model in more detail.”

Krasnow also said that the recent LUR amendment vote on Town Meeting Day, which was particularly rancorous regarding Articles 6 and 7 and development in the East Village Commercial District, was a bit of a wake-up call that a change might help close the gap between Charlotters’ expectations and the PC’s work. “After the Planning Commission diligently worked for over two years researching, developing, and holding public meetings on proposed amendments to the Land Use Regulations, the voters in Town decided to reject these amendments,” he said. “Some of this disconnect may be due to not having the bandwidth to anticipate the changes the Town would like to see made.”

At Monday’s meeting, one member of the Selectboard, Frank Tenney, expressed reservations about the merits of forming a DRB. Tenney is the current chair of the ZBA. He said he was hesitant about the idea because it would mean a significant amount of work for a single board, with a lot of meetings, paperwork, and deliberations. “I don’t know how a board would handle all of this,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a way.”

During the meeting, Town Administrator Dean Bloch said he thought that about 75 percent of towns in Vermont use the DRB model in their local governments; Selectboard member Jim Faulkner pointed this out in response to Tenney’s concerns.

“It must work if 75 percent of the towns use it,” Faulkner said. “It’s not something unique we’re trying to do.” Faulkner volunteered to work on a committee comprised of himself; Lane Morrison, who is a member of the zoning board; and Joslin from the PC to explore the merits and downsides of creating a DRB.

Krasnow said that as a Selectboard member, he often hears from frustrated people who complain about the permitting process, and he hopes to hear from them during the DRB exploration period. “Public input is vital throughout this process,” he said, “and my hope is residents actively participate.”

Note: Lane Morrison, who is on the ZBA, is a founding advisor to The Charlotte Bridge.