Permits, plans, and policies dominated the first regular meeting of the newly-formed Brattleboro Selectboard.
Flood plain models and measurements were at issue for a significant portion of the meeting, with little that could be done except make a federal case of the matter. In the end, an agreement to reach an agreement with a property owner was agreeable enough to allow the board to acknowledge the project they have no say in. It was that sort of an evening.
The skatepark approaches, but has not crossed, the fundraising finish line. A revised Town Plan is nearing completion, a re-application for the Downtown Improvement District relies on the Town Plan being approved, and the Heifers have permits to go strolling again this year.
Chair Kate O’Connor wished everyone a happy spring, and noted that the board’s newest member, Shanta Lee Gander, was absent.
Neither Town Manager Peter Elwell nor other selectboard members had anything preliminary to report.
For public participation, Mr. Nickerson, self-described as a “civil country boy,” said that he heard of a school in Pennsylvania that was putting five gallon buckets of stones in classrooms for students to use against anyone trying to shoot them.
“I suggest an upgrade,” he said. Nickerson explained that slingshots and marbles provided to teachers might buy students valuable time in the event of an active shooter.
Hotel Pharmacy came, as requested by the board, to discuss their recent violations and corrective actions. Like others before them, they sold liquor to a minor.
Owner Mary Giamartino said that vertical licenses would now be checked by two employees “with a magnifying glass” and cash registers will require entering a date of birth. “It was just a mistake.”
Employee Peter Massari said it was a dumb mistake. “We’re a pharmacy and check ID’s for everything all day. Our job is to read small print.” He said he looked quickly at the ID and did the math for an 18 year old rather than a 21 year old.
“Vertical license?” asked Kate O’Connor.
Giamartino said it was confusing. “It shows two dates. One to show the date becoming 18 years old and the other shows when someone turns 21.”
Tim Wessel said mistakes happen, and knows they check ID’s. “I get asked for ID for cold medicine .”
“I’m a stickler,” said Giamartino.
The board, acting as Liquor Commissioners, granted the second class license.
Strolling of the Heifers received their annual Friday evening street festival special event permits. Nine different companies will have samples and sales of their intoxicating beverages at the River Garden between 5 and 9:30pm.
Anne Latchis, the general manager of the event, said there were new vendors this year, all licensed and ready to check ID’s.
Strolling of the Heifers Weekend Permits
Strolling of the Heifers received permits to block the street, have a parade and expo, and have a bike race, over the period of June 1-3.
The street festival was approved for June 1, from 4:15pm to 9:30pm.
Town Manager Elwell said the plan stays pretty much the same from year, but gets tweaked. This year, parking meters will be “bagged” at 2 pm to allow proper time for parking to end and vendors to set-up. Another new requirement is that the event complies with the Brattleboro Police’s traffic control requirements.
Anne Latchis said that businesses had agreed to the earlier bagging this year. She expected no cars after 3 pm.
Orly Munzing said they plan to have volunteers assigned to 10 space areas to help out.
The parade and expo was approved for June 2, from 8 am to 5 pm. The parade starts at 9:45 am and is from NEYT to the Retreat.
The bike event was approved for June 3 between 8am and 4 pm.
Downtown Improvement District Renewal Application
Every five years it comes time for the Downtown Improvement District (DID) to be re-certified, and that means sending a proper application to the state.
Planning Services Director Rod Francis gave the board an overview of the application and process. He said Town staff collaborated with the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance to prepare, and there was a vote of members to approve of the re-application. “82% supported it,” he said.
“18% voted against? Is that a normal percentage split?” asked Brandie Starr. Francis said it was similar to the prior re-application.
“Any reasons given?” asked Starr.
Francis said that it was a simple up or down vote, without asking why. he thought it might correspond roughly to differing views on how much property owners like to be taxed. “A number feel that the extra tax is a burden and would prefer not to have it.” He said 82% showed “strong support.”
The application includes a map of the area, a discussion of land use regulations and planning, a five-year workplan for the designated downtown organization, budgets, success stories, and other background materials.
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of the new application, which now gets sent to the DHCD Downtown Program Coordinator for a possible June hearing, if the Town Plan is finished. Town Plan? Yes. Read on.
Public Hearings for 2018 Town Plan
May 1 and 15 have been set as dates for Public Hearings on the 2018 Town Plan revision.
A PDF version of the Town Plan draft is available here.
Planning Director Rod Francis told the board that the 2018 Town Plan will be valid for eight years (up from five), and that there are no significant changes to the new plan.
There are some changes, though. The new plan updates accomplishments (new Land Use Regulations, starting a downtown master plan, and updating flood info), provides the most current facts and figures, and addresses new statutory requirements.
The Planning Commission has already approved the draft, and held public hearings on each chapter.
Kate O’Connor wondered if the public could still request changes at the upcoming public hearings. Francis said that there have been numerous opportunities so far to weigh in but yes, people could still request changes. “They’d be seeking the selectboard’s support of their changes.”
Francis said the board will be faced with accepting the plan, requesting changes and possibly triggering more public hearings, or just rejecting the plan altogether.
Board members wondered what the effect would be if they rejected it.
“It would be amusing for about 3-4 minutes if you didn’t adopt it,” said Francis, before saying that it would be quite bad if they failed to adopt it.
David Schoales wondered how they could encourage the public to attend the public hearings. Francis said they would rely on the press, meeting warnings, and notices on the town’s web site.
Schoales asked what minor changes were made in the plan. Francis said minor changes were mostly a matter of tense. The prior plan stated we’d like to see new land use regulations, for example, and the current draft indicates we have them. Some other factual information, such as the number of jobs, has been updated. “Not a significant shift.”
Tim Wessel said that having a newborn keeps him up at all hours, which has given him a chance to read the entire Town Plan. “I highly recommend everyone who is interested in Brattleboro read it.” He said it was a fascinating document, as well as a good plan for the town. He aslo suggested taking it one chapter at a time.
Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR) for Whetstone Brook Melrose Terrace Floodplain Restoration Project
Brattleboro and Brattleboro Housing partnerships are collaborating on a project to remove flood-prone buildings at Melrose Terrace and to restore the floodplain there. This work began after the damage caused by tropical storm Irene.
Rod Francis was joined by Chris Hart of Brattleboro Housing Partnerships, and Doug Osborne from Milone and MacBroom, and engineering firm working on the project.
Work to be done includes demolition of 11 buildings, reconnection of 4.3 acres of floodplain, installation of an overflow culvert at the George F. Miller bridge, which has the benefits of removal of buildings most prone to flooding, reduction of flood levels from one to three feet, reduction of flood levels by reducing risk of avulsion (bank jumping), and creating an area for deposits of sediment and large wood.
FEMA provides significant funding, but requires a ”conditional letter of map revision,” which the board would need to approve in advance of the project. This letter certifies the Town has knowledge that the project is being contemplated and will change the floodplain map in the future.
Tim Wessel asked who thought up the idea of putting the buildings there in the first place. Chris Hart said that it was the first project of the brand new Brattleboro Housing Authority. She said they took the project to HUD in New York City, which grabbed some plans from a project in Virginia, and gave them to Brattleboro for us to build.
She said the property had been a chicken farm, then landfill was used to make space for the housing project. “Within six month of opening, it flooded.” She said there have been regular evacuations and flood there ever since.
Engineers have created new models and maps using the latest, most accurate data available, said Francis. These maps shows how the project won’t make things worse, and indicate the new floodplain lines after the work is completed. Projections for 10 year, 100 year, and 500 year floods are being included in the package to FEMA.
For the most part, the work to be done will improve things. There will be more space for water to flow and less debris getting backed up at bridges. Good news for many property owners, who could see rates decrease if the lines get redrawn in their favor.
One homeowner, however, came to the meeting with concerns that things would go the other way. Draft maps presented showed his property being shifted from a 500 year flood level (and no flood insurance requirement) to a 100 year mark, which would trigger the need for flood insurance if there was a mortgage involved. He wondered what recourse he had.
Short of hiring his own engineering firm and filing his own assessment with FEMA, there wasn’t much he could do. Nor could the selectboard.
“Don’t think you can influence the lines on the map,” said Francis to the board. “You can support it or not.” He said the model will play out, and show something, or not, and FEMA will review it all and approve it, or not. The only way to object would be to file a “letter of map amendment” with FEMA.
“I can’t fight the engineering,” said the property owner. He said it turned his property into a liability by doing these changes.
Wessel said he tried to get a new line established for a property on Frost Street, where it touched his front porch. He paid for an assessment and found out it was worse than before. “I now pay over $200 a month for flood insurance.”
There was much discussion of whether citizens or the board had any way of shaping the outcome, but there was little wiggle room until Chris Hart offered to work with the property owner. “We’re footing the bill,” she volunteered. “If there is any way of changing the map, we will try. I know what it is like to have a property in the floodway.”
Francis thought there might be room for adjustment, perhaps by being more refined in some cross section measurements, and double-checking the mathematical models.
The property owner was appreciative, but still concerned that if the map was approved, he would have no future recourse.
“Just like us,” said Starr.
“We have no say,” said O’Connor.
The letter was approved.
Cemetery Seasonal Maintenance
Vermont Road Works will receive $17,021 for seasonal maintenance at Prospect Hill and Morningside cemeteries. There was a lower bid, but it didn’t meet the requirements.
Walmart Foundation Grant for Skatepark
Recreation & Parks department’s application to the Walmart Foundation for $5,000 toward the skatepark was approved by the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Carol Lolatte said the committee was very pleased with the generosity of Representative Town Meeting representatives, and the new total was $170,000 out of $230,000. More grants and fundraising efforts were being planned, including a nationwide contest to get $20,000 by having supporters go to MeetMeAtThePark.org every day in April and voting for Brattleboro. (Top vote getters win.)
Tim Wessel wanted to get an update from the committee regarding the estimates given at Representative Town Meeting. He thought members were asking for the specific number to get “over the top” and might be disappointed to learn there was more money to be raised.
“People thought it was fully funded,” added Brandie Starr. “That was the number we wanted.”
LoLatte said the numbers given included “other irons in the fire,” and that the finish line was in sight. “It’s nearby, but we haven’t crossed it.”
The grant application was approved and the committee will be at the next meeting regarding grants, so further questions, if any, can be asked.
Westgate Debt Re-assigned
A restructuring at the Westgate affordable housing cooperative has led to the re-assignment of debt from the Westgate Bond Housing Limited partnership to the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust. The new entity controlling the debt will be called the Westgate Allocated Housing Limited partnership.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland explained. In 2001, Brattleboro got funding from the Vermont Community Development Program and loaned $170,867, interest-free and payments deferred, to Westgate. With the restructuring at Westgate, the re-assignment of debt to the new ownership is required.
“One larger general partner is removing itself, and the subsidiary is stepping up and taking on the liabilities of the exiting partner,” he summarized.
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of the paperwork.
Five County Scattered Site CBDG Grant
A $725,000 grant to support a five county housing services project was accepted by the Brattleboro Selectboard. Moreland again did the explaining.
The money comes from the Vermont Community Development Program, and the grant will be administered by the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust as well as Downstreet Housing and Community Development (in north central Vermont).
The grant was awarded in July of 2017, but to meet all conditions of the grant took additional time.
To get the money, the board had to adopt a grant resolution agreement. The board also gave authorization to the Town Manager to implement the grant.
Vermont Community Development Program Policy Updates
Brattleboro’s policies regarding the local Revolving Loan Fund, and participation in state community development grants, have been updated and adopted by the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Moreland, scoring his municipal hat-trick for the evening, explained once again. The update was done at the request of the Vermont Community Development Program. They had no problems with how Brattleboro’s program was running, but wanted updated program guidelines that specify all the ways in which the funds are used.
Moreland said it adds a select board discretionary component to the policy.
Most of the fund is used for rental housing improvements, disaster relief, and small business assistance, but some is used in other ways, such as funding for SeVEDS, or loans to the Brooks House, or the apartment in homes program.
“It brings policy in line with practice,” said Starr.
The board also adopted Municipal Policies and Codes (Form MP-1), something they are required to do every ten years. By doing so, the VCDP can confirm to the federal offices that everyone in the state is adhering to federal standards for equal opportunity employment, fair housing, use of excessive force, lobbying, ethics, drug-free workplaces, and sub-recipiant oversight monitoring.
Terry Carter said that she’d return to the next meeting to bring up the issue of tires being dumped in wetland areas near the marina. “More public pressure and publicity is important,” she said.
Thanks as always
That was a mixed bag of a meeting.
the map discussion
The discussion of the flood maps was frustratingly classic. A long discussion about how not much could be done, despite these opportunities for people to weigh in.
On one hand, the latest technology can be very accurate with measurements. Maps are always being refined, updated and improved based on better data. When planning or building, we want to use the greatest amount of accuracy available to us, if we can.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t be slaves to data. The mathematical models might predict something, but they are just models. It was good to hear they’d go back and try again. It would be great if this could work out as not to negatively impact an adjoining property.
The board seemed a bit amazed that the skatepark wasn’t fully funded. My own impression was that the RTM gift plus expected grants and some matching efforts would fund it, not just the RTM portion. RTM sort of puts them over the top if the other pieces fall into place. More on this at the next meeting, they said.
I was going to add a comment about how great the Town Plan is, and that it was well worth a read if you have any interest in Brattleboro, but Wessel beat me to it. So, I’ll just second that remark and encourage people to take a look.
I do have a Town Plan question, though. Will we be able to bring in our old Town Plan thumb drives for an update?