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Taking care of business

November 3, 2011

With all the focus on natural gas drilling in the zoning reviews of local municipalities, a couple of other concerns voiced in the public comments on Tusten’s draft deserve closer examination. They are the charges that the document—and the comprehensive plan on which it is based—were constructed without opportunity for input from key business stakeholders, and that they accordingly are “anti-business.”

While there are certainly sections that can be—and have been—tweaked in one way or another to be more accommodating to business, we don’t think these charges overall hold water. The first, in particular, is perplexing. We have sat in on the last six months or so of the meetings of the zoning rewrite committee, which were open to the public, and never at any one of them did we see any of the individuals who complained about not having input. We did, however, see other members of the public, who took the opportunity to make comments, ask questions and interact with the committee.

As noted by consultant Dr. William Pammer at the October 13 meeting of the zoning committee, the process by which the comprehensive plan was constructed was similarly open. “When we embarked on the plan, we were very sensitive to using a broad-based stakeholder process, which employed a town survey, and we actually received data from the real property tax base, so we could put it in the data base in a random sample and then we could do re-sampling as well. We actually over-sampled.” There were also three focus groups, public announcements in the newspaper and two public hearings.

In cases where specific public comments about provisions that were seen as restricting business were submitted—as opposed to generalized rhetoric—the committee frequently chose to make changes accordingly. For instance, some developers complained that a lot coverage percentage was impractically low, as was a building height restriction. The committee wound up adjusting both at the meeting on October 27.

Some of the contentions made about “anti-business” provisions were simply not true, for instance the charge that the rewrite would not allow for the tutoring of more than one child at a time in a home business. The specific case of musical instruction is limited to one student; otherwise, up to five can be tutored at a time, which, as noted by Pammer in his response to public comments document, “is consistent with research on tutoring and student performance, where small groups of 2-6 students are recommended.”*