October 31, 2014

Growth management, sign, lighting and lake bylaws take step forward

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By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

After months and in some cases years of work, the Williston Planning Commission wrapped up a batch of potential bylaw changes on Aug. 19, sending them to the Selectboard for approval.

The bylaws primarily involve development and business interests—a new growth management system, lighting and signage updates and changes to development standards around Lake Iroquois.

GROWTH MANAGEMENT

The town’s growth management system, which sets a limit on new development in town and encourages growth in Taft Corners, expires in fiscal year 2015. Under the system, landowners and developers compete for building allocation for a limited number of units in town.

The Planning Commission developed a renewal of the system, with some changes based on issues raised by developers and recommendations from the Affordable Housing Task Force. Like the current system, the new growth management system would run for 10 years—until fiscal year 2025—and would allow for 80 new dwelling units per year.

The new system would give some leeway to smaller units. Currently, a dwelling unit is a dwelling unit, whether it is a mansion or a studio apartment, said Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau. Under the new system, however, studio and one-bedroom apartments would count as half of a dwelling unit.

The new growth management system would also stipulate that 25 percent of the available units in each zoning district be reserved for affordable housing.

Another major change limits the amount of allocation that may be given out in a given year. That change is intended to help avoid the predicament that faced the town in the last several years—the system ran out of allocation, meaning that development projects had to wait until it became available.

Currently, allocation must average 80 units per year, but projects can dip into the allocation associated with future years.

The new system would limit how much allocation from future years could be allotted, ensuring that some allocation remains at the end of the 10 years.

No more than 50 percent of the units allowed in a zoning district may be allocated two or more years before the fiscal year they become available. In addition, no more than 75 percent of the allocation may be distributed one year prior to the fiscal year the allocation becomes available.

“There would always be some allocation left each of those fiscal years,” Belliveau said. “It’s an attempt to make sure allocation doesn’t all get given out over the first couple years, but it’s still possible a big project could get allocation.”

Other changes are intended to ease some issues that arose for developers.

Allocation will last for five years, rather than the current four years, before it expires.

The extension period for a project that demonstrates substantial progress was lengthened from two years to five years.

The evaluation system for affordable housing projects was fine-tuned.

 

LAKE IROQUOIS SHORELAND PROTECTION AREA

Several Lake Iroquois residents attended Tuesday’s public hearing for the creation of the Lake Iroquois Shoreland Protection Area, encompassing all land within 250 feet of the lake.

All development within that area must comply with the Vermont Lake Shoreland Protection Standards—approved by the Vermont Legislature in July.

New structures within that zone must be set back from the lake a minimum of 100 feet—less than the 150-foot buffer zone on ponds and lakes in town.

Existing, non-conforming structures can also expand under limited circumstances.

The new bylaws, outlined in Chapter 31.3, define new development standards for the area, intended to protect the lake and character of the neighborhood, while allowing some limited development.

Building height within 250 feet of the lake must be no more than 30 feet. Owners of non-conforming structures can expand them by no more than 20 percent of the footprint. Expansion must take place on the side of the structure away from the lake and can’t occur more than once in five years. Non-conforming structures can also be moved, but only away from the lake.

Lake Iroquois residents who attended the meeting said that lakeshore homeowners have been pleased with the inclusive process and resulting changes.

“I really feel that you’ve done a great job in presenting what we were looking for,” said Chris Conant, who lives on the lake. “People are feeling like this is an opportunity for us.”

 

OUTDOOR LIGHTING

The Planning Commission developed changes to the outdoor lighting chapter of the bylaw, largely based on dissatisfaction with perimeter lighting around the eaves of the then-new CVS in Taft Corners this spring.

“These changes are intended to try to address those concerns,” Belliveau said.

The new bylaw would prohibit bands of light—“lighting fixtures containing lighting elements that form a band of light.”

The commission also approved a change that would require businesses to turn off exterior lights by half an hour after closing or 10 p.m., whichever is later. Currently, businesses must turn their outdoor lights off by half an hour after closing.

In addition, lighting fixtures mounted on the façade of buildings may not be higher than 15 feet.

Changes also clarified that outdoor lighting on building facades must be used to accentuate the architectural features of the building and must be shielded so the light is aimed “downward towards the ground and not onto adjacent roads, sidewalks or properties.”

 

SIGNS

The Planning Commission also approved changes to sign bylaws.

“The primary purpose of these changes is to deal with a couple of internal complexities and inconsistencies that the staff had been running into over the years and to provide some flexibility for offsite signs for agricultural uses,” said Senior Planner Matt Boulanger.

Currently, the state’s anti-billboard law allows some exceptions for offsite seasonal agricultural signs, but town bylaws do not include those same exceptions. A new subchapter in the bylaws, 25.3.3.3, would allow offsite agricultural signs for farms, farmstands and farmers’ markets to be placed in the agricultural-rural, village and residential zoning areas advertising farm products in those zones.

One sign can be placed on a given parcel of land, with owner permission, and must be temporary and no larger than six square feet. No permit is required.

The proposed changes will not become official until they are approved by the Selectboard.

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