(Host) This year Westminster will break with tradition by holding its town meeting on Saturday. But one non-binding item on the warning seeks to prevent another kind of change. It’s aimed at protecting the town’s scenic ridge lines.
VPR’s Susan Keese has more.
(Keese) For Rick Cowan, it’s a question of how much one person’s million dollar view should be allowed to change the scenery for everyone. Cowan is one a group of Westminster residents who are disturbed by a sudden increase in ridge top homes in nearby towns.
(Cowan) “Folks tend to – either builders or owners – clear cut two or three acres on a ridgeline, put their trophy home up there and the view that’s sort of framed the valley for thousands of years is occupied by a bunch of big homes.”
(Keese) The town’s planning commission has been hearing similar concerns. So this year voters will be asked whether they want to pursue a zoning ordinance that would address the issue. If the answer is yes, a second article calls for interim zoning to protect ridge tops until a permanent by law is worked out.
Westminster town manager Glenn Smith has been hearing opinions on both sides.
(Smith) “The two sides of the discussion are one, to what extent do these ridgelines represent scenic resources that should be protected? And on the other hand, to what extent is it appropriate to restrict a landowner’s right to develop his or her property if that property happens to be along a ridgeline?”
(Keese) Cowan says his group doesn’t want to ban ridge top development, just to regulate it. He says an ordinance might require rooftops not to break the contours of a hill.
(Cowan) “So instead of putting your house at the very tippity top where everyone has to look at it, you just put it down a little. Another thing is to have the lighting instead of directed straight out into everyone else’s eyes, just have the lighting pointed down.”
(Keese) Cowan says several Vermont towns already have rules like these. He says it’s important for municipalities to act quickly if they want to protect their pristine views, because state regulations are changing.
Jim Matteau, the director of the Windham Regional Planning Commission, agrees. For years, he says, towns have relied on rules on septic systems to limit high altitude building.
(Matteau) “Because the soils and slopes are such that you couldn’t get a septic permit up there anyway. And those laws are liberalizing in Vermont. And in a couple of years it’s going to be possible to build homes with septic systems on slopes and soils that weren’t previously possible.”
(Keese) But advances in waste disposal technology have changed that. Matteau says the new rules will allow septic systems to be built almost anywhere, provided their designers can show that they’ll protect water quality.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.