A patchwork quilt of zones is just too much of a headache for the zoning board, and they’ve been outmoded by new town law that uses different designations than what’s on the books for that board.
The zoning board has reworked the current law as much as it can without some help, so the members sought input from AES Northeast's Scott Allen at at their March 15 meeting.
The town is divided into 23 zones right now, said Code Enforcement Officer Michael Tetreault. Reducing that to 10 or so would be a big improvement. He said that when other town officials see their jigsaw-puzzle-like zoning map they're astonished at the number of separate zones.
He and the Zoning Board have worked on the current zoning law for the last three years, and are ready for the homestretch where they finalize their plans.
It might be a little tougher than the board hoped, said Allen. Rewriting ordinances and introducing new ones, like regulating outdoor woodstoves, should be a simple matter of board vote. Rezoning the town could take a much more extensive revision of Champlain’s comprehensive plan, a costly and time-consuming project that won't launch immediately.
Tetreault said that even with just zoning code revisions, he’d effectively have less power as a codes enforcement officer, and he’d much prefer it that way.
His job would involve much less interpretation on his part if the definitions were better. It would also put people in a better position to appeal zoning board decisions if they had more clearly explained terminology to work with.
One example, said Tetreault, is the word family. Though it's used throughout the zoning code, there's no definition provided. Does it just mean people who live together, or does there have to be some legal or ancestral criteria? There's just no definitive stance to take because it's not spelled out in the code.
“You have to have a law that you can hang your hat on,” for codes to be effective, he said.
Complicating matters is that a year ago, town and local ordinances were updated by a company called General Code. Now, those documents refer to the zoning law book by an organizational system that’s inconsistent with the zoning book. It needs to be updated to comply with the new reference system.
Some common themes recur frequently as zoning issues because they're not addressed in the zoning code. Single- and double-wide trailer homes aren't mentioned, but they need to be regulated. Some neighborhoods don’t want those residences, said Tetreault, but trailers need a place to exist.
Tetreault said the zones as they stand, in many instances, were set out specific to the owners of the properties when it was first made. A review, though not likely to happen soon as it seems a comprehensive plan update is needed, would hopefully remove that special interest bias from zone placement.
Bruce Seguin, who chairs the zoning board, noted that the current comprehensive plan is fairly vague, and wondered if there was some wiggle room so rezoning wouldn’t require a comprehensive plan rewrite.
Allen said his firm can make high-resolution zoning maps in digital .pdf form so the town can put that resource on its website, along with a digital copy of its zoning law for the public to use.
Tetreault said all the current information is readily available at the town hall, too.