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Planning commission discusses future of limited business/commercial lodging district

05/22/2008

By Lisa Loomis

Should Waitsfield's limited business and commercial lodging districts be rezoned to recognize (and legitimize) what currently exists or should the zoning for those districts be amended to allow more uses and more development?

Those were two of the questions posed by planners and property owners at a Waitsfield Planning Commission meeting this week. The planning commission, on May 20, held a public hearing on the districts, meeting with members of the public and a handful of landowners within the district.

The limited business district runs from what used to be the Waterworks and is now a residence on the west side of Route 100 south of Waitsfield, to the Kingsbury Road. The commercial lodging district is located between Waitsfield and Warren, in areas where there used to be ski-related lodging business. That area encompasses the Lareau Farm and The Purple Moon/Easy Street. It begins again at the Mad Bush and runs south past Yestermorrow to the Waitsfield town line and includes the Bundy.

Since the zoning ordinance was written in the early 1980s the uses in those districts have evolved considerably. The Lareau Farm Inn remains an inn and hosts weddings but is also the home of American Flatbread where flatbread is produced in bulk and served at a restaurant two nights a week. The Mad Bush, formerly an inn and motel and later Egan's Restaurant, is now empty. The former Alpen Inn, once permitted for 200 rooms and an expansive facility, is now home to Yestermorrow Design/Build School.

When Waitsfield's original zoning districts were created in the early 1980s, the intent of the original authors was to recognize areas of development that existed, and also to limit further development of those areas, explained planning commissioner Russ Bennett, who served on the commission with one of its founders, the late Bob Rose.

"From what I understand from Bob, the original planners wanted to acknowledge pre-existing conditions and prevent further sprawl and degradation of the agricultural/residential district. They wrote the zoning so that inns and lodges had restaurants as accessory uses and tried not to make those businesses nonconforming. They made them legal but not duplicatable. They wrote the zoning to match what existed there," he said.

Planning commission chair Steve Shea invited those present to speak about their wishes/thoughts for the district, prompting Mike Marino to ask that the town consider changing the lines on his property -- which straddles two districts -- so that it's all in one district. He owns land on the east side of Route 100 that runs from Hap's Service Station south to the Valley Animal Hospital. He suggested that the town move the limited business line north to Hap's.

Planning Commissioner Robin Morris asked what types of uses Marino envisioned for his property and Marino said it would be ideal for light manufacturing.

"There's no other spot more suitable than that area for business growth," Marino said.

David Cohen, who owns Baked Beads at the south end of the Valley Professional Center property, asked the planning commission about whether their review of these districts would impact the permits he currently has for his business and warehouse.

"When I built my building five years ago at 4,000 square feet, I had the option of expanding up to 10,000 square feet in the future. I wouldn't want the zoning to change so that wasn't allowed," Cohen said.

Jeff Schoellkopf, representing Yestermorrow, presented the commission with a list of possible ways and uses that might be added to allow the school to become a hub for education, light retail and residential development.

"We'd ask that you consider new conditional uses so that light industry, retail, office, school, residential were possible," Schoellkopf said.

"What you're describing is a mini-town. But I agree that the school, which exists, should be made a legal use," Bennett said.

Schoellkopf said he was also concerned that mixed uses could not be permitted because the town's planned unit development (PUD) process was for buildings and the land was not zoned for mixed uses.

George Schenk, owner of American Flatbread, told the commission that he envisioned the Lareau Farm becoming a food production hub where food is grown and processed. He said that, historically, the Lareau Farm had functioned as a food production hamlet for the town and said he felt it was appropriate that the farm return to a food production center as people become more interested in food that comes from here rather than afar.

"I like the idea of nodes of enterprise, a culture node for the Bundy, an education node for Yestermorrow and a farm/food node for Flatbread," said planning commissioner Brian Fleisher.

Planning commissioner Hadley Gaylord said that he felt creating specific nodes like that was akin to spot zoning.

The planning commissioners discussed current uses and explained that they would continue the process with land and business owners in the coming weeks before drafting any changes to the existing zoning.

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