On Tuesday, July 23, Berlin voters will have the opportunity to vote to amend the zoning bylaws to correct a problem of significant importance to the economic health of the town.
It was only a little more than a year ago that Berlin enacted changes to the flood control portion of the zoning bylaws. The Planning Commission held hearings, but there was little attention to the fact that the amendments of 2012 required that all lands in the flood plain were to be prohibited from development.
This prohibition is unusual in Vermont. Only a few towns have enacted such a harsh measure. Most favor a more reasonable rule, allowing development in flood plains if the structures and development are designed to meet Federal FEMA and State flood protection standards. The amendments to be voted on this coming week restore the more normal rule.
The difference between what was adopted in 2012 and what is proposed to be amended now is dramatic. If the existing rule is allowed to continue in place, lands owned by 171 impacted parcels in Berlin, including 278 acres in all, will be eliminated from further development by the change.
Berlin competes for business with Montpelier and Barre, and Barre Town, and none of those other communities have adopted such a restrictive floodplain zoning scheme, making Berlin uncompetitive in the development of the areas where business is most likely to develop.
The Barre-Montpelier Road is the development engine of Berlin, and many feel that these amendments have set us back from natural and appropriate growth.
The proposals do not affect the prohibition of development in flood ways. These are the more highly protected zones, where structures would restrict the natural flow of high water and invite further damage. Flood plains, however, are not so restricted according to state and federal law, and towns and cities are allowed to make their own decisions on how development should be treated there.
If this rule had been in effect for decades, there would be no Barre-Montpelier Road development in Berlin.
Recovering from the economic downturn, Berlin is growing. The new Panera Bread, the coming CVS at the bottom of Hospital Hill, are one sign of a renaissance of business activity along the Route 302 corridor. New businesses mean more jobs, and more prosperity for the region.
Elections in off years, out of season, are often poorly attended, but in this case voters of Berlin ought to take the time to cast a ballot in favor of the amendments, for the good of the town.
Ronald C. Lyon