November 12, 2019

Great lake debate

Public, officials to consider whether Lake Iroquois should have its own zoning district

Lake Iroquois, formerly known as Hinesburg Pond, is a 229-acre reservoir that serves the communities of Williston, St. George, Richmond and Hinesburg. Williston officials are considering the creation of a special overlay zoning district for the Lake Iroquois watershed, with the goal of improving both water quality and the development process for property owners. (Map courtesy of Jessica Andreoletti, Williston Planning and Zoning Dept.)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Among the many quotable sound bites at the July 2 Williston Selectboard meeting was a zinger from Bob Pasco, president of the Lake Iroquois Association.

“It’s everybody’s lake, and it’s nobody’s lake,” Pasco said of Lake Iroquois, which straddles the town lines of Williston, Richmond and Hinesburg.

Pasco’s statement was made in the context of explaining to the Selectboard the difficulties the LIA faces in gaining uniform support for its water quality improvement work.

“We have the second highest phosphorus level of all the inland lakes in the state,” Pasco said. “We have the highest percentage of boats coming directly from Lake Champlain, which is around 20 percent. There is also little unanimity as to how the lake should be used. We have skiers, wakeboarders, fishing people, kayaks, canoes. It seems like just a cacophony of different uses for the lake.”

The good news, Pasco said, is that 10 of the 12 grants the LIA has written in the past four years have been successful—including a recent LaRosa Partnership grant to monitor all of the lake’s tributaries to determine the largest sources of phosphorus pollution.

However, Pasco said that despite paying part-time greeters to check boats for invasive species, the LIA is primarily an educational and research group, meaning that any significant enforcement measures to improve the lake’s water quality would be up to Williston and the other three member towns of the Lake Iroquois Recreation District.

“It’s too sweet a resource to let it go down the tubes,” Pasco cautioned.

LAKE IROQUOIS OVERLAY DISTRICT PROPOSED

Williston Director of Planning and Zoning Ken Belliveau told the Observer on Monday that a public meeting will be held July 26 to discuss the potential of creating a special overlay zoning district for the Lake Iroquois watershed.

Belliveau said that a special overlay district, which is suggested as a considered action step in the Town Comprehensive Plan, would give the town leverage to enforce water quality regulations and would narrow the disconnect between the unique landscape of the area and its present zoning standards under Agricultural/Rural Residential Zoning District bylaws.

“We don’t really have a good match between what’s there right now and what our regulations say,” Belliveau said. “It’s almost impossible to deal with a permit request down there.”

Belliveau noted that despite the fact that the regulations carve out a 150-foot setback requirement for lakefront properties, most of the camps and seasonal homes on the lake are “legal nonconforming,” meaning that they are inconsistent with the town’s development standards, but are grandfathered because their construction predated the establishment of the town’s zoning regulations.

On the other hand, while the established dwellings are allowed to maintain the status quo, owners are prohibited from making any improvements or additions to their properties.

“Because we have the 150-foot setback, that freezes everything that’s there,” Belliveau said.

Belliveau suggested that revised zoning regulations could improve the water quality of Lake Iroquois by allowing larger developments if property owners build farther away from the lakefront. He also offered that revamped development standards could give the Williston Development Review Board the authority to predicate certain lot improvements on commensurate road improvements to Beebe Lane, the town’s primary vehicular access point to the lake.

“What I would like to see is if there’s a way we could come up with tweaks to the regulations,” Belliveau said.

The July 26 public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room. Belliveau said it will give residents the opportunity to weigh in on the proposed overlay district and discuss any concerns pertaining to the land area surrounding Lake Iroquois.

He added that in addition to discussing a special overlay district—which, with certain exceptions, would be subject to the underlying zoning standards of the ARZD—it may also be prudent to consider creating an entirely new zoning district.

“There’s a very real question as to whether it should have its own zoning district,” Belliveau said.

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