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Old regulations are stricter and broader

10/18/2007

By Russ Bennett

The Subdivision Regulations that have been duly adopted by the Waitsfield Select Board are important to the future of the Town of Waitsfield. Waitsfield has had the same subdivision regulations since 1988.

These regulations were a good beginning but they are a one-size-fits-all-land kind of ordinance and they are incredibly broad which means they can be interpreted many ways. This leads to misunderstanding on behalf of applicants and the inevitable lawsuits.

The planning commission has surveyed the townspeople many times in the past 20 years and these subdivision regulations are in concert with what the voters have said is important. The PC spent three years re-writing these regulations, hired the best planning consultants in the state to assist and held numerous public hearings as did the select board before adopting them. 

The newly adopted subdivision regs recognize that some areas of town should allow denser development than others, such as existing settlement patterns both residential and commercial and that in other instances the natural resources that are precious to us all need to be considered. They are not perfect, no ordinance is, but they can be amended and will be as needed. It would be a pity to throw the baby out with the bath water as some disgruntled citizens would advocate.

The era of "it's my land and I should be able to do with it what I want" is long over. We all have a right to own property -- we don't have a right, an inherent right, to profit from it (although that would be nice but is not part of a capitalism, maybe socialism) pollute it, misuse it, or not consider whether our proposed uses for it work  with the stated goals of the townspeople.

Zoning has been found constitutional many, many times. Global warming, polluted water, acid rain, poorly designed developments that don't consider natural resources and traffic and interconnectivity are the result of 'it's my land and I'll do what I want with it for my own personal gain' kind of thinking. If we want our town to be developed in responsible ways we need thoughtful, responsible regulations.

There are a few vocal folks who did not get exactly what they wanted out of the old subdivision regulations when they made their applications who are complaining about these newly adopted regulations. The new regulations are clear; developers always ask for clear direction, not fuzzy ones. The old ones are fuzzier and in many ways stricter. The old regs allow a much broader way to look at the possibility of new road networks than the new ones, so if the new regulations are overturned the old regulations that demand a review of future road ways will be in effect.

The original town fathers laid out roads for towns with no cars and much smaller populations; they laid them out where they thought they should go. It is critical to look at the impact of roads or the lack thereof when development is proposed. The original charters called for taxes to be paid to support the roads, the schools and the parsonage and you were required to keep five acres open and a house 18 feet square or you could have your land taken. Those guys were much more heavy-handed than any regulations in effect today.

Destruction of natural resources, preservation of ag land -- some folks are opposed to regulations of any sort so don't be beguiled into thinking the complainers can be mollified. It's your town, it's your vote, it's your responsibility. If you care about your town, vote in support of the regulations. If you want to see the town developed in thoughtful ways that take many criteria into consideration, not simply the immediate desires of any particular developer, vote yes to support the select board, the development review board, the planning commission and the new subdivision regulations. If there are changes you want to see made to the new regulations, propose those to the PC where they will get a full public review and hearing. Don't throw a lot of good work out with the bath water.

Destruction of natural resources, preservation of ag land, these things are important and  some folks are opposed to regulations of any sort so don't be beguiled into thinking the complainers can be mollified.

Russ Bennett lives in Waitsfield.
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