By Julia Purdy
PITTSFORD—The Pittsford Planning Commission has been working on updating the town zoning ordinance for almost a year, with the final public hearing held Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the regular semimonthly meeting of the Pittsford Select Board. The Board will reconvene in executive session at a future time after compiling the two versions of the ordinance and reviewing public comments.
Jeff Biasuzzi, part-time zoning administrator for Pittsford, said the draft has been well received. The objective of the proposed ordinance is to make it more business-friendly and property-owner-friendly, and encourages new and small home-based businesses by making it easier to get a permit and put up signage, he said.
The “change list” showing deletions and additions is available on the town website and includes changes to 24 zoning categories. Anticipating a possibly heated session, Selectman Chair Hank Pelkey opened the hearing by admonishing the attendees to observe the rules for an orderly meeting.
The zoning issues that drew the most comment are issues many Vermont towns are grappling with: big box stores, land use, business signage, and ridgeline protection.
Big box store coming to a town near you?
Some in the audience came prepared to oppose the construction of a Dollar General store, currently in the Act 250 permitting process. When Pelkey reminded everyone that Dollar General was not on the agenda, the discussion deftly turned to land use and how introducing a “big-box” store in the center of a traditional village challenged Pittsford’s small town/rural character and economic equilibrium.
One woman asked if new buildings could be designed to fit in visually with the rest of the town. Laurie Kamuda of Kamuda’s Country Market, in the heart of the village, asked if there were criteria for accepting new businesses into Pittsford. She cited the need to preserve the small-town charm that attracts visitors and new residents, and she expressed the need to protect long-time businesses with deep roots in the community. She questioned how and whether Dollar General would “bring value to our community.”
Three individuals politely challenged the deletion of prior language prohibiting ridgeline development that would “break the vegetative canopy as seen from a public road … or create risk of significant ecological damage. …” One man asserted that the draft zoning regulations “don’t appear to carry out the objectives of the town plan” for conserving the natural environment and preserving scenic values. He cited specific pages in the town plan that include strong wording in opposition to impairing the scenic beauty of Pittsford with obtrusive large-scale industrial wind or solar installations. Members of the planning commission responded that “ridgelines” were not a zoning issue and not within town jurisdiction.
The issue of signage raised concerns about unchecked proliferation of business signs. The proposed change removes the restriction on the number of signs a business may display. A planning commissioner said that business owners had been polled. The inclination of both the planning commission and the Select Board was to let businesses use their own judgement according to their “business model.”
Town to buy 55 acres with historic ice cave?
Bill Powers, president of the Pittsford Historical Society, came with an offer from the society to sell 55 acres to the town. The parcel includes the historic ice cave and was deeded to the society in 1979 by The Nature Conservancy. The society felt that the appropriate buyer would be a public or nonprofit entity. Powers said that it requires some maintenance, it’s hard to get to, and you enter it by a “rickety ladder.” Also, he added, “There’s no ice in it.” The Select Board will consider it after investigating legal and insurance questions.
By Julia Purdy