Selectboard votes to split zoning, planning boards
BELLOWS FALLS — Citizens looking for help with either zoning or planning and development will have a more streamlined process following a selectboard vote on Tuesday, April 18 to split the joint Rockingham Planning Commission / Zoning Board of Adjustment (PC / ZBA) into two separate entities.
Several current members of the PC / ZBA have chosen to serve on either the new Planning Commission (PC) or the new Development Review Board (DRB), depending on their interests and qualifications.
“We all feel this would be a benefit [to the community],” PC / ZBA member Katherine Martin said at Tuesday’s meeting.
After hearing from three PC / ZBA members offering support, members of the Rockingham Selectboard, with all but Ann DiBernardo present, voted unanimously to change the PC / ZBA into two individual boards, effective July 1.
Rockingham Zoning Administrator Charles “Chuck” Wise Jr. said the joint board has been working for about a year to implement a change and to determine if the board could “make this workable.” That included training with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), and looking into what several other towns were doing for zoning, planning and development.
Last October, the PC / ZBA presented the selectboard with a proposal to separate the board into two entities. At that time, the selectboard agreed to the concept, but asked for assurances that enough people would be available and willing to fill the seats on both boards.
Since then, the PC / ZBA has focused on recruiting a qualified and diverse group of candidates dedicated to public service, according to Chair Alan LaCombe.
LaCombe was not present Tuesday, but had submitted a letter to the municipal manager and the board.
“In reality, creating new boards is a lot like creating a new culture. We believe this is a critical juncture for selectboard involvement and facilitation,” LaCombe said in his letter.
PC / ZBA members Patrick Moyna, Katherine Martin, and Renee Vondle attended the selectboard meeting to voice their support for the creation of two boards.
“We are all willing to serve,” Martin said.
Wise said the change will lead to a simplification and streamlining of the town’s zoning and planning processes, with singular decisions for each board.
Martin said that it has been difficult to get community members to come to meetings, and that with the board separated, citizens may be more likely to attend PC meetings and have “input” in local planning activities.
In separate motions, selectboard approved the termination of the PC / ZBA, the creation of the Town of Rockingham Planning Commission, and the creation of the Town of Rockingham Development Review Board. At LaCombe’s request, the selectboard also appointed a selectboard liaison, Stefan Golec, to the PC and DRB to help the selectboard remain connected with the zoning and development boards.
The PC, a seven-member municipal board with authority and responsibilities governed under state statute. Members will be appointed by the selectboard, with 3-year terms, though those appointed first will start with shorter terms to minimize the number or appointees expiring at once.
Selectboard chair Lamont “Monte” Barnett said he recalled that a former zoning board chair, a few years ago, was removed after being seen protesting outside a new business. Calling that situation “bad governance,” Barnett pointed out that anyone serving on a zoning board needs to “stay clear of this stuff.”
The following individuals were appointed to the PC: LaCombe, Vondle, Bonnie Anderson, Deborah Wright, Laurie Rowell, Nathan Rounds and Bonnie North.
Wright, who attended the meeting, said she believes having two separate boards will “facilitate a better transition into the future.”
The DRB, a municipal board, will have five members and two alternates in 3-year terms, also operating under state statute as the Appropriate Municipal Panel (AMP), for review and permitting.
The PC will solicit DRB members for any vacancies, and make nominations for them to the selectboard.
Wise said that because it is a quasi-judicial group, any member of the DRB can be removed by the selectboard, for cause, upon written charges and after a public hearing.
Wise will remain the zoning administrator for Rockingham, and will still handle applications, he said.
The following were appointed to the DRB: Vince Cherico, Moyna, Thaddeus Guild, Martin, and LaCombe, the sole member of the existing joint PC / ZBA that will be serving on both boards. Alternates will be Merritt Schnipper and Holly Bartel.
The next step will be for the board members to work with Wise to create training sessions for the PC and the DRB, and to create PC bylaws and DRB rules of procedure.
The current PC / ZBA will continue to operate until June 30, 2017.