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Lumberland learns more about zoning rewrite

August 10, 2011

The Town of Lumberland recently conducted an informational meeting to answer questions on the proposed rewrite of its existing zoning law, a process prompted by the earlier update of the town’s Comprehensive Plan and performed by the Zoning Rewrite Committee over the past two years.

The committee is chaired by Lewis Powell, who also chairs the town’s zoning board. Powell invited questions from the large crowd. Most spoke in support of the town’s efforts to protect residents’ quality of life by establishing zoning that prohibits high impact industrial activities, and rounds of applause followed several speakers.

But builder Charles Petersheim, who owns property in the town, called the effort an “exercise to ban gas drilling,” and questioned the process. Powell invited Helen and David Slottje of the Community Environmental Defense Council (CEDC), who are serving as advisory legal counsel to the town on this matter, to address those concerns.

Helen began by clarifying what towns can and can’t do. “The law says that towns are prohibited from regulating the oil and gas industry,” she said. “All a locality can do is decide if that particular land use is prohibited in their town or not. A prohibition is not a regulation of the operational process of the industry. That’s why a town can seek, based on land use impacts, to prohibit a use.

“So the community has to make its decisions. Does this community want to allow industrial heavy impact activities in residential areas, historic areas, farming areas and river areas, or is there no place, or a limited place in this town for heavy industrial use? Zoning protects everyone’s property values by limiting incompatible uses and deciding what uses are harmonious or inharmonious with a community’s vision. All of this zoning is based on a community’s comprehensive plan.”

Helen cited the long comprehensive planning process that took place in Lumberland to identify the goals of the community—to preserve its rural character, to preserve the historic district, to preserve the quiet and tranquility. “That’s what this zoning was designed to do, to protect everyone’s property values,” she said.

Petersheim continued, “I think the theory that this zoning is based on is questionable at best and that it puts the town in a compromising position that it can’t afford to take.”