By Rachel Fifield
The Hinesburg Planning Commission and Director of Planning and Zoning, Alex Weinhagen, held a public hearing on proposed changes to the zoning bylaws in Hinesburg in response to Vermont Act 56 on Jan. 13.
Under current state law, large solar and wind projects are the jurisdiction of the Vermont Public Service Board, and cannot be subject local bylaws like zoning. A utility applies to the PSB for a certificate of public good to move forward with a project. Particularly in southern Vermont, town governments have criticized the lack of local input. The recently passed Act 56 requires the Public Service Board to look at local screening requirements in zoning when making their decisions, and also allows the town to file as an interested party to represent it’s support or concerns about a project.
The catch is that these screening requirements must be the same across all commercial and industrial development, including utility installations like solar. Weinhagen said that Hinesburg’s proposed screening bylaws are triggered by lot coverage (10,000 square feet or more), and are intended to break up visual impacts. He and the planning commission emphasized that they aren’t intending to make development invisible: this proposed section includes the same language as is used in residential development about making sure projects are visually absorbed as part of the landscape.
The meeting was well-attended, with questions and comments from the conservation commissioners, Hinesburg residents and local businesspeople. Bill Marks of the Conservation Commission wanted the bylaw to require a spatial analysis test, and faster-growing plants for screening. Businessman Lynn Garner wanted his zoning district to be exempted. Other citizens spoke about internal screening, which is intended to break up the visual impact of large projects from within.
Chair Joseph Iadanza listened intently to concerns, and explained that it was difficult to create a one-size-fits-all approach that would cover all concerns because the bylaw has to cover all commercial and industrial development in town. “The state makes us hold all areas equal, even though they are inherently different, he said.”
The bylaws will undergo further hearings (and likely changes) before being brought to vote at town meeting in March.