Manchester board scraps 1-acre town status

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MANCHESTER — As of Aug. 4, Manchester will no longer be a "one-acre town" as far as Act 250 is concerned.

The Manchester Select Board last week unanimously voted to repeal a town ordinance that set a one-acre threshold for the state's land use and development law within the town borders. That means Act 250, the state's land use and planning law, will revert to a 10-acre threshold in Manchester.

Because it constitutes the repeal of an ordinance, the change must be posted in public for 60 days before it can take effect, and during that time the public has the right to petition the board's action.

The move came a week after the board approved a revision of the town's zoning ordinance and map, in an effort to simplify the rules, promote the development of workforce housing, and discourage sprawl, among other goals. That effort, two years in the making, passed by a 3-1 vote last month, and those regulations will take effect on June 19.

Under Act 250, the threshold for review under the terms of that land use planning law is lots one acre or larger for towns that do not have zoning or residential subdivision plans, and 10 acres for towns that have those regulations in place. Despite having those regulations on the books, Manchester enacted and kept a one-acre town designation, as residents sought to exert more control over development.

Now, for property owners with plans for less than 10 acres, the Development Review Board is now the deciding authority. Its decisions can be appealed to the Environmental Division of state Superior Court, and then to the state Supreme Court.

The Select Board had pondered rescinding the one-acre ordinance at the same time it was considering the zoning overhaul, but decided the zoning changes needed to come first.

At the board's meeting on June 5, Ivan C. Beattie said it was time for Manchester to make the change.

"It's always been my thought that we can best determine what's best for Manchester at the local level. We certainly have the capability to do that," Beattie said. "I have supported this move for quite some time and with the new [zoning] ordinance we have in place we are in position to take this move."

Beattie and board member Greg Cutler both said that, in the past, Act 250 had been used by the opponents of development to stop or stall projects. And Beattie and town manager John O'Keefe noted there have been times that town-issued permits had to be restructured because the terms of an Act 250 permit overruled the town's decisions. The town permit held by the owners of Manchester Shopping Center, for example, had to be modified by the DRB because Act 250 added conditions that were not part of the local decision.

"Having served on the Development Review Board, I've seen many examples just as you described where [Act 250] was used as a weapon and where we ran into so much redundancy," Cutler said. "There were quite a few projects that were stalled or just stopped dead that probably would have been better for the town. ... I am completely 100 percent in favor of this repeal."

The repeal does not, however, mean that properties with Act 250 permits are now free from those conditions, O'Keefe told the Journal on Monday; those conditions are still in effect.

Reach Journal editor Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-490-6000.


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