Randolph Center Eyes Stricter Zoning Regs

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Front Page / Jul. 30, 2015 10:12am EDT

‘Fire District’ Has Right To Enact Rules
By Marya Merriam


The Randolph Center Fire District encompasses most of the village and VTC campus area. 
Graphic: Herald / Tim Calabro; Source: Google Maps, RFD1 Handout The Randolph Center Fire District encompasses most of the village and VTC campus area. Graphic: Herald / Tim Calabro; Source: Google Maps, RFD1 Handout Last Friday night, approximately 25 residents from the 50 homes in Randolph Center Fire District 1 crammed into the Randolph Center Firehouse during a special meeting to provide input on the new zoning proposed by the Randolph Planning Commission.

According to its 1939 charter, the fire district, which encompasses most of the Randolph Center village, is granted the power to do nearly anything any other municipality does. The charter also allows the district to create and enforce its own zoning. However, Randolph Zoning Administrator Mardee Sanchez clarified Wednesday that zoning exists to enforce and strengthen town plans. Since the district has not yet created a plan, it could not create its own zoning yet, she said.

Even if RCFD1 does create a plan, Sanchez wasn’t sure how much independent zoning would have to align with Randolph town zoning, but she noted that it would have to comply to plans from Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission. She also noted that creating independent zoning would require RCFD1 to have a larger budget, since “they would have to hold on to paperwork just like we do.”

Working Together

At this point, RCFD1 is not creating its own zoning but rather seeking to work with the Randolph Planning Commission to make sure the district’s desires are included in the town’s new land use regulations, which have not yet been adopted.

Even if not being explicitly utilized right now, the district’s partial independence from the town is a driving force in the perceptions of the district’s power both among its residents and the town of Randolph.

Randolph Planning Commission chair David Miles, who attended Friday’s meeting, said in an inter- view Tuesday that he and the rest of the Randolph Planning Commission is seeking to accommodate the residents of Randolph, including those in the fire district, because they want the new zoning to pass.

The last time zoning was voted on in Randolph in 1990, it failed, Miles said, because a segment of the town did not feel their concerns were addressed. He hopes that by working with Randolph groups like the fire district, this same fate can be avoided 25 years later.

Two Small Districts

RCFD1 is a grouping of about 50 houses within the borders of the “Welcome to Randolph Center” sign on Route 66, Dr. Arthur Knippler’s dentist office on Main Street, and the Randolph Center Cemetery. The district cuts through part of the VTC campus.

Within this area, there is an even smaller historic district thanks to Wes and Mim Herwig, who applied for the federal designation.

The Randolph zoning proposal treats the fire district and contained historic district as well as some surrounding areas as “Randolph Center Village,” described in the document as an area that “promotes more densely clustered development than surrounding areas.”

However, the RCFD1 Prudential Committee, a three-member group that governs the district, took issue with the RCV development standards, permitted developments, and lack of specific zoning for the fire and historic districts. The committee brought this to the attention of the Randolph Planning Commission and developed their own, stricter guidelines.

Lot Sizes Questioned

According to RCFD1 part-time resident and property owner Dan LaLumia, the Randolph Center Village zoning district has the second smallest minimum lot size for development in the newly-proposed plan, after downtown Randolph.— which would allow for greater density than currently exists.

The Randolph Planning Commission’s proposal also did not prohibit a number of developments in the RCV zoning district, including outdoor recreation, commercial group services, high volume offices, and multi-family dwellings.

“For the most part, we are a residential community,” LaLumia said.

In order to preserve that identity, the district meeting Friday chose to adopt many of the Prudential Committee’s zoning recommendations, which significantly modified the version that the Randolph Planning Commission has proposed.

Prudential Committee chair Carolyn Lumbra resisted calling the residents’ decision a “vote,” opting instead to label it a “motion of consensus.”

RCFD1 Proposals

In effect, the district chose to restrict development within its borders.

New development is restricted in both districts to lots of one acre or more, rather than the 8000 square foot (approximately one fifth of an acre) minimum set by the Randolph Planning Commission.

In fact, RCFD1 residents chuckled at the special meeting after realizing there may not be an undeveloped acre within the historic district.

The categories of use permitted by the Randolph Planning Commission also became more limited under the hands of the Prudential Committee and fire district residents.

New developments of tennis courts, restaurants, hotels, banks, dentists, buildings with three or more living units, or many other similar uses are not allowed.

Current businesses, such as Dr. Knippler’s dental office, are allowed to continue operation as long as they do not cease operation for more than one year.

The fire district does allow low volume offices like financial and law service groups as well as day care centers in existing buildings only. New buildings for these groups would continue to require site plan approval from the DRB.

In the historic district, only oneand two-family dwellings would be allowed. The district did create an exception for the site of the post office and Floyd’s Store. If either of these buildings are catastrophically damaged or cease operation for longer than one year, they may still be reopened.

Miles said this information from the fire district will be incorporated into the zoning proposal before the district and town meet again in late August. He said the Planning Commission is currently looking to resolve other issues brought up in its May 27 hearing as the commission has dedicated its last two meetings to the fire district.

While integrating the RCFD1 decisions, Miles said the Planning Commission will also work extensively with TRORC to make sure that the zoning complies with the regional plan as well as residents’ desires.

He noted, however, that he “was pleased that they probably had close to 50% turnout” at the meeting, reassuring the Randolph Planning Commission that these zoning changes are what the majority of the district wants.

Other Issues

Although the zoning discussion took two hours, there were other items on the meeting’s agenda. The group voted to use district funds to create an RCFD1 website and discussed possible uses for the Parade Field, located between the Red School House and First Congregational Church.

The district also elected three members to its own Planning Commission. John Doss, Kevin Doering, and Dan LaLumia will be responsible for creating a municipal plan for the district so residents can take further control of their future.

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