Chester residents sound off on bylaws
By Christian Avard
Staff WRITER | April 22,2013
CHESTER — What will the town’s bylaws look like in the next 10, 20, or 30 years? That is the question Chester officials are discussing with residents.
The Select Board held its first public hearing Wednesday on proposed changes to the town’s unified development bylaws. Drafted by the Planning Commission, the bylaws are zoning, subdivision, and flood damage prevention regulations that provide orderly community growth and promote the town’s public health, safety and welfare, according to the bylaws purpose.
Thomas Bock, Planning Commission chairman and selectman, said the town wanted to update the bylaws to make it easier for small developers and homeowners to determine what they can or cannot do on their property. Several residents gave feedback on the new bylaws in person and one resident by letter.
Local resident Paul Dexter wrote a letter to the Select Board asking officials not to approve a minimum lot size of 80,000 square feet to three acres or 130,680 square feet in R-80, a Chester zoning area. According to Dexter, it would represent a 62 percent increase in size and would make it more difficult for residents to subdivide and sell existing larger lots and retain smaller lots to live on.
“Under the proposal, a resident will need to retain an extra acre and pay full tax on that land. Similarly, a parent who can subdivide a parcel to transfer to a child will be hampered,” Dexter said in his letter read by Select Board Chairman John DeBenedetti. “If any changes were to happen, he suggests a minimum of 2 acres or 87,120 square feet. That’s a 9 percent increase, which is more reasonable.”
Shawn Cunningham, also a Chester resident, said conditional use permit standards should be strengthened. Under current development review procedures, construction of new buildings “adhere harmoniously to the overall New England architectural appearance which gives the center of Chester its distinct regional character and appeal.”
Cunningham suggested the town define the term “New England architectural appearance” because local residents are fighting a Dollar General retail store from opening on South Main Street in Chester. The Development Review Board approved a conditional use permit but opponents maintain the design does not conform to a New England architectural appearance.
A new definition, according to Cunningham, would provide more clarity.
“A definition is a big step forward,” Cunningham said. “If someone wants to build here, they will have to work (on meeting) that appearance,” Cunningham said.
One resident expressed concerns over the Dollar General Store, proposed solar farms in Chester and a proposed biomass plant in North Springfield. Richard Farnsworth said most residents do not support recent developments and think the town is headed in the wrong direction.
“The way of life here seems to be taken away from us slowly. It seems like it’s about dollars and cents rather than common sense,” Farnsworth said.
The Select Board said they will take Farnsworth’s comments into consideration. The Select Board will vote on the new bylaws at a date to be determined and they urged that more people come forward if they want to see changes in the new bylaws.
“This is big stuff. These are life changes we’re considering,” Select Board Vice Chairman Derek Suursoo said.
For more information on the next hearing, call the town office at 875-2173.