Meryl Hartmann reported this story on assignment from the Charlotte News. The Community News Service is a program in which University of Vermont students work with professional editors to provide content for local news outlets at no cost.
It was the same questions in the same case at the Charlotte selectboard meeting last Monday night — and, in the end, the same result for the land dispute between officials and Barb Russ and Dean Williams.
Selectboard members agreed Aug. 28 to a deal with Russ and Williams to let the pair tear down a 1940 Thompson Point camp and replace it with a larger structure that violates land-use regulations. Russ and Williams lease the property from the town and, after being denied by the town development review board, went to state environmental court. The Aug. 28 deal would settle that case.
But the selectboard needed input from the development review board and conservation commission, so the item was back on the agenda Sept. 11. In the end the selectboard stuck with the settlement — after a heated meeting that nearly saw officials reverse themselves and sparked criticism from the two town agencies.
Here’s how the meeting played out.
The selectboard needed to determine if there was any reason to rescind its previous decision to approve the project proposal, which would see the camp replaced with a two-story building more than twice its size.
Development review board chair Charles Russell said there was one. He claimed there is a process issue as the “previous decision was made with incomplete information” due to a lack of input from the Charlotte community.
That is why it was “paramount,” he said, for the selectboard to “gain and maintain the trust of residents through clear communication and openness” by rescinding its previous decision to allow for a clearer process to follow.
Maggie Citarella with the conservation commission agreed the town should reverse its decision to let groups like hers to more properly give their feedback on the case. “The selectboard’s decision on this really matters and has serious implications for the town,” Citarella said, mainly concerning “how development review and town planning are conducted in Charlotte moving forward.”
Ruth Uphold, a town resident who attended the meeting over Zoom, expressed concern about the lack of information released to the community about the decision and questioned what basis the selectboard relied on to make its decision during executive session. “We have a right to know the criteria for the reversal of the DRB,” Uphold said, on what she called a “precedent-setting decision.
On the opposite end were claims that there was nothing new in the case and that the decision should be left as is.
Russ and William’s lawyer, Jeremiah Ouimette, said at the meeting that the “DRB and CCC have already had their role in this matter.” The reason the state approved the project, Ouimette said, is that it is “a good project for the environment.” That was at odds with what conservation commission member Claudia Mucklow said during last month’s meeting: The proposal violates land-use regulations and involves cutting down 16 trees in a rare forest ecosystem, she said.
To Ouimette’s comments, other parties in the case such as neighbor Carol Conard stepped up to the microphone to share their disagreements with the attorney. Conard restated her discontent with the project and how it affects the properties next door.
However, another attendee over video backed the leaseholders. “Thank goodness for the Russes and the Williamses for fighting this classic overreach by the DRB,” said a participant who identified himself only as Eli. He agreed that this is a precedent-setting case for Charlotte — but for a different reason. “If we keep saying no” to these projects and developments, he said, “we’re going to become known for that” as a town.
Categories: Local government