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PZC Continues Subdivision Review as Deadline Nears

KENT—With only weeks before their six-month moratorium on subdivisions ends, the Planning and Zoning Commission this week continued its review of changes to the regulations.

Planning consultant Glenn Chalder guided the group through the document, detailing changes suggested by Town Counsel Michael Ziska, while commissioners debated the issues involved. “The next step will be to prepare the regulations for further review and then take them to a public hearing,” Chalder said. No town meeting will be required as the PZC has the authority to enact them after the hearing.

Much discussion was devoted to the amount of open space a developer must reserve when making a subdivision. Chalder said that 15 percent of the property is the “baseline scenario” for open space, but that he would make provisions for applicants to set aside more space if they desire. But, he added, the “proportionality factor” must prevail. “The land donated shall not have a greater percentage of wetlands, steep slopes or water courses than the rest of the parcel as a whole. They can’t just give us constrained land,” he said.

Member Adam Manes said, “This should not be onerous. It is supposed to be a better way to go, an incentive to keep some space green. In exchange, we give you the ability to put in a few more lots, to tighten them up.”

In response to a question from Alice Hicks, Chalder said the developer could donate a wetland on a property, but proportionality must be preserved. So, if a wetland were included in the open space donation, it could boost the total donation to 20 to 25 percent.

The group decided that the open space should first be offered to the town, then to a local land trust, and finally to a neighborhood association.

Manes observed that land trusts are not interested in “just any piece of land,” because there are management costs. 

Commissioners favored allowing private roads in subdivisions and opposed requiring them to be built to town specifications unless waived by the PZC. Chalder said the provision would ensure that emergency vehicles could access residences. “If they are not built to town specifications, it could create a situation for public safety,” he said. “And towns have found themselves on the horns of a dilemma if people request the town take over maintenance. If it’s not built to town specs, it might not be able to become a public road.”

Hicks asked if there is a minimum number of houses along private driveways. “When does it become someone’s driveway?” she asked.

PZC Vice Chairman Wes Wyrick observed, “This is a rural community, and private roads are far more rural,” but Manes pointed out that Mountain Road is “steep and difficult” and has challenged homeowners to find people to maintain it. “The people who maintained it are not going to do it anymore, and they are having trouble getting other people to take it over. But that is for them [the residents] to figure out. They knew what they were buying into.”

Chairman Matt Winter said he favors writing the regulations to allow private roads but adding “somewhat strict” standards.  

But Chalder said, “I don’t know if subdivision regulations are the right place to establish specifications. A note could be put on the plan saying that if it planned for a town road, it has to meet town specifications,” he said. 

It was noted that there might not be an appetite in the general public for adding subdivision roads as public highways unless they increase connectivity to other highways. 

Manes said, “If you had a town meeting and only the people on the road showed up, they could dump a horrible road on town’s head.” He said there should be a provision that the subdivision’s landowner association be required to bring it up to town specifications. 

Some discussion was devoted to cul-de-sacs and Public Works foreman Rick Osborne said he had no objection to them if there is no curbing to make it difficult to push snow onto them. Chalder said they should be at least 40 feet across to facilitate snow removal.

Osborne also expressed concern about the number of lots on a private-road turn-arounds because of snow removal. Wyrick, in a Goldilocks moment, said “Two would be generous, four would be too much. I could go with three.”

When attention turned to street trees, Manes said he sees value to requiring them and Winter asked that they be native trees, a request that was heartily endorsed. Osborne said they should be 20 feet from the road “so they don’t create a hazard or impinge on the road in the future.”

The commissioners decided that conditional approvals—which give developers the right to work without posting a bond until enough work is done to get a lower bond rate—would run for five years with the possibility of only one five-year extension.

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