Harrisville Planning Board
Wednesday, December 9, 2020
The Harrisville Planning Board held a regularly scheduled meeting and public hearing on Wednesday, December 9, 2020 at 7:00 pm at 705 Chesham Road and via zoom.
Members present: Ryan Stone, Ned Hulbert, Lisa Anderson, Pete Thayer, Kate Neary, Andrea Hodson, Jon Miner, Don Scott
Members absent: Courtney Cox, Noel Greiner
Additional attendees: Peter Temple, Erin Hammerstedt, Winston Sims, Maryday Mordecai, Harry Wolhandler, Carol Ogilvie, Les LaMois
Co-Chair Ryan Stone noted that the voting members for the evening were himself, Lisa Anderson, Andrea Hodson, Peter Thayer and Ned Hulbert.
Following acknowledgement of the incorrect day of the week in the public notice, members moved and voted unanimously in favor to approve the meeting agenda.
Minutes of previous meeting 11/10/2020
The board moved and voted unanimously in favor to approve the minutes of November 10th.
Transportation Committee update
Mary Day informed the PB that the TC was granted close to $10,000 by the Southwest Region Planning Commission to install two speed radar signs in town. Some of these funds will to the Trails Committee for trail and trailhead markers. Work will be done in the coming year, followed by an assessment. Ms. Mordecai expressed appreciation to the PB and committee members for their support. The PB offered additional ongoing support regarding public engagement or other committee needs.
Andrea Hodson reminded members of tomorrow night’s public hearing, beginning at 7pm. The draft Electric Aggregation Plan was distributed a couple of weeks ago and is available on the town website’s Community Power page, and in hard copy at town offices. She encouraged all to review the website, which includes a video and the draft Plan, and to complete the survey.
Communication from the Select Board on Governor’s Mask Mandate
Andrea Hodson explained the reason behind the SB memo thanking employees and officials for continuing to follow health and safety recommendations and for honoring the governor’s mask mandate.
Public Hearing on Proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendments
Lisa Anderson reviewed background on the ordinance amendment process, the Planning Board’s jurisdiction over drafting the regulations, and ordinance changes in the past few years geared toward clarifying language and regulations for the public and zoning officials.
Tonight’s hearing is the second one held by the PB on proposed Zoning Amendments for the March Town Meeting. Several of the proposed amendments were agreed upon by the PB at its November public hearing. This second hearing is for the purpose of addressing provisions not unanimously agreed upon, particularly the amendments related to setbacks in wetlands.
At 7:30 pm, Ryan Stone officially opened the public hearing on the Proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendments. Carol Ogilvie reviewed the following:
Amendment of the phrase Accessory “Building” to Accessory “Structure” in the Definitions Section, Article XXVI – Ms. Ogilvie explained that changing the word in the definitions section makes sense, but that replacing it throughout the ordinances does not. Members had no problem with this amendment.
Wetlands protection – Amendments to Article XII
Since the November hearing, the committee deliberated at length the subject of Wetlands District Boundaries. The proposed amendments, they believe, should cover all wetlands adjacent to water bodies that are above the reference line (or mean high water level); in other words, areas not already regulated by the Shoreland Protection Act.
Carol Ogilvie then noted that the committee agreed to put back the exemption for existing residential structures, but added two provisions (126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52) allowing for a little more oversight, to ensure groundwater flows remain uninterrupted and that all other applicable provisions in the zoning ordinances are complied with. Winston Sims expressed concern that the ability to expand existing structures in wetlands was too open-ended and thus should require more limitations. The committee noted it feels the proposed 184.108.40.206 addresses this, and that the existing ordinance has no limitations.
Ms. Ogilvie then re-reviewed amendments agreed upon in the November hearing, including the Wetlands purpose statement, changes to the definitions to include more detail, and changes to district boundaries provisions to outline buffer zones.
Returning to the subject of state jurisdiction over public waters, Harry Wolhandler and Don Scott reviewed what the state oversees versus what the town’s wetlands ordinances address. Any wetlands within the lake, below the reference line, are considered part of the lake and thus are covered by the state’s Shoreland Protection rules. All agreed to the suggestion to amend the word “outside” the reference line to the word “above” the reference line in proposed article 12.4.3 to make clearer the boundary issue.
Ms. Ogilvie then continued discussion of the proposed amendments agreed upon by the PB in November, including: the requirement that wetlands be delineated prior to issuance of a building permit; special provisions denoting buffers; outlining of permitted and restricted uses within the buffers; eliminating the conditional use permit in order to simplify the review process; and eliminating the Watercourses section, as it already appears in the Floodplain Management section of the zoning ordinances. She also reviewed special exception uses, again settling on one process instead of the previous special exception and conditional use process.
An additional edit was recommended; adding, at the end of 12.6.1, the words “except as specified in this ordinance.” Carol Ogilvie will make this change.
Peter Temple, a member of the public with environmental, conservation and climate change experience requested clarification on the definition of vernal pool vs. wetland and questioned logic of requiring an automatic 100’ buffer for a vernal pool, no matter what the size. He asked in particular about Nelson Road along the edge of Harrisville Pond, and Island Cemetery, wondering if problems may arise that weren’t anticipated by the committee drafting the amendments. He asked if the state or other towns are enacting similar changes.
Lisa Anderson explained that proposed revisions are because existing ordinances are outdated and don’t reflect current science. She added that the committee researched ordinances of many towns and that the state looks to towns to regulate their own wetlands. Harry Wolhandler shared the list of towns whose ordinances the committee reviewed, and what the committee liked and didn’t like about different regulations. He added that the definitions come from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The group then held a lengthy discussion of the definitions of wetlands and vernal pools, with the clarification made that vernal pools are unique in that they are not always wet and serve different environmental purposes. Mr. Temple asked the logic of a 25’ setback from wetlands under 3,000 square feet but requiring a 100’ setback, four times the setback protection, for vernal pools. Mr. Wolhandler reiterated the different protective functions the vernal pools serve for breeding by amphibians and explained their linear reproductive system. Don Scott noted that the Natural Heritage Bureau can pinpoint locations and can run a database of protective species within given areas; running a project through the database is a way to ascertain if a vernal pool exists on a property.
Subsequently, Winston Sims asked why the proposed ordinances don’t address tree clearing or construction on steep slopes outside the 100’ buffer. The committee noted that these ordinances focus on wetlands but the question could possibly be addressed at a later date.
Co-Chair Ryan Stone then closed the public hearing at 9:00 pm. The PB reminded attendees that voting by the PB on all proposed zoning amendments would take place at its January meeting. By then, the final format and draft ballot will be prepared. Carol Ogilvie will incorporate the agreed upon changes from tonight. The PB should let her know in what format members would like to see the final proposed amendments. Ned Hulbert and all board members thanked the ORC and Carol Ogilvie for their work.
Planning Board budget review
The board heard potential approaches for revising the Master Plan, with Ms. Ogilvie presenting thoughts on making the document more user friendly and more flexible; e.g., shorter in length with appendixes. She will share a sample. The Harrisville Master Plan is from 2014, thus still fairly recent. Given the focus in recent years on zoning amendments, Ms. Ogilvie believes zoning changes can be given a rest and the Master Plan looked at to ensure it’s in sync. Ned Hulbert noted the projects of recent years, such as Broadband, Ordinance Review, Transportation connectivity, and Community Power, the current initiative. All have been done or are being addressed.
Ryan Stone then shared the approved budget for 2020 and his proposed modifications for 2021. The PB is coming in below budget. To date they have only expended 43%, likely because of Covid. Addressing proposed professional services line, Carol Ogilvie will submit her final invoice for 2020 and proposed line for 2021. The office will forward an updated budget to the Co-Chairs.
It also was noted that allocated training money was not used because of Covid. The office will obtain the NHMA membership fee for 2021 and an estimate for new / updated zoning ordinance books.
The meeting adjourned at 9:35 pm.