SHAFTSBURY >> The Shaftsbury Select Board considered on Monday zoning changes to the downtown commercial districts and a lowered speed limit on Elm Street.
The speed limit change was requested by residents several months ago, and will lower the speed limit along the entire length of Elm Street from 35 mph to 25 mph. According to the ordinance adopted by the board, the decision was made, "to promote public health and safety... based on consideration of neighborhood character, abutting land use, bicycle and pedestrian use, and physical characteristics of the highways."
Residents argued that people were using the dirt road as a way to get to Route 67 without going through the center of North Bennington, where the speed limit is 25 mph. "I've seen quite a few things that have happened there that are due to speed," explained resident Rod Cameron at a board meeting in June, "There's a lot of people that walk their dogs, people walk with their kids up and down there, and (cars) go through there like crazy. If something isn't done there's going to be a problem at some point."
The speed limit change will go into effect on Oct. 7, unless a petition of 5 percent of the qualified voters is submitted to the Select Board by Sept. 28.
Chris Williams of the town's planning commission explained proposed changes to the town's downtown commercial zones. Williams said the planning commission was currently leading the first comprehensive review of the town's bylaws in over 36 years, when zoning was first implemented in Shaftsbury. "We want see what things work, what things haven't worked," he said. "We don't want to do anything too radical."
"The commercial districts haven't really worked out as envisioned," he said. "It represents the changing attitudes since the time that zoning has been in effect. There was great concern that Vermont was developing too fast, and that growth was something you should be afraid of, and that you had to rein things in or your community would be unrecognizable."
Williams said the commission looked at the issue very closely, and determined that there were too many impediments to commercial businesses in the commercial zones, of which the town has two, both along Route 7A. He said they looked at methods that, "wouldn't open the door too wide, but provide room for growth in the commercial districts." One issue, he said, is that the districts currently do not allow commercial development without a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board. He said the commission is proposing changing certain uses from "conditional use" to "permitted use with site plan review." He said this would still require businesses to get parking, screening, wastewater, etc. approved by the DRB, but the underlying assumption now would be that their business would be permitted, unless the site plan violates the town's bylaws. The changes would also allow businesses to build closer to the road.
"Would it result in a flood of businesses? Doubtful," said Williams, "But these things happen over time."
The board also approved a municipal tax rate of 38.42 cents per $100 of appraised property value, down slightly from last year's rate of 38.94 cents. Town Treasurer Melanie Dexter said that, when combined with the education tax rate, which is up slightly, the rate is mostly flat from last year. Residents will see their combined rate go up slightly from $1.63 to $1.64, and the non-residential rate will increase from $1.81 to $1.82.
The Shaftsbury Select Board meets the first and third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Cole Hall on Buck Hill Road in Shaftsbury. Full recordings of the meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.
— Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.