by Willow Lanpher
Three members of the planning commission/zoning board resigned last week after making a decision they said they felt pressured to make.
Though the board voted to approve amendments on Kirk Fenoff's application to build a campground and - pending approval from the Act 250 District 7 Environmental Commission - Fenoff can proceed, some are concerned the town commission's decision was not the one they intended to make.
"... Having this board railroaded by inflamed public opinion and local politics into making what I believe to be a bad decision for the town has left deep scars," former planning commission Chairman Barry Cahoon wrote in his resignation letter to the Danville selectmen dated Nov. 13.
Cahoon was unavailable for further comment on Tuesday.
Sugar Ridge RV Village and Campground with 96 sites was approved by the Danville commission in the fall of 1997. It achieved Act 250 approval from the environmental commission in April and construction began shortly after.
The decision to amend the application was made by the town commission on Nov. 13, and comes on the heels of meetings and hearings that took place after they noticed Fenoff didn't appear to be proceding exactly according to the permit they approved.
At issue is not only whether the Danville Planning Commission was pressured into making the decision to approve the amendments of the town's permit, but whether it was the right decision for the town, and how much of Fenoff's alleged violations were due to miscommunication between himself and the board.
A memo to the commission from Zoning Administrator James Ashley, dated Oct. 6, illustrates the ways in which he felt Fenoff violated his permit. Charles Gallagher, Act 250 coordinator for the District 7 Environmental Commission, said the commission saw the changes as well, and a notice of violation was sent to Fenoff asking him to apply for amendments through the district commission.
The project is one of the biggest Danville has seen in a while and many feel it will be an asset to the town.
"We're hearing that they support it because they like that type of business here," Fenoff said Tuesday, referring to members of the town. "They think it's going to be good for the area."
"I can't think of where it would be a detriment to the town in any way," said Catherine Beattie, who's family owns land near the campground.
"I think it looks good, so I don't think it's offensive to the town," said selectboard Chairman Larry Gadapee.
He said he felt the campground would not necessarily bring more people into town, but get some of those passing through to stop for the night.
Some members of the planning commission, however, apparently did feel the project was offensive to the town.
In the decision issued by the town commission, findings of fact include excerpts from the town plan dealing specifically with the town's character: "The town is and wants to remain a rural, residential community," Section I of the plan states.
"This thing started out being a campground for people to come in and camp for a few days and then they'd leave," said former Commissioner Albert "Bert" Thorndike.
Thorndike and Commissioner Austin "Gus" Enos resigned during a selectman's meeting Nov. 19. Enos abstained from voting on the ammendments but Thorndike said he voted in favor of them because Cahoon asked him to and he felt loyalty to Cahoon.
"I basically resigned because I had previously felt compelled to approve a decision I did not agree with," Thorndike said on Tuesday.
A major issue that the commission had with the amendments was the loss of a 100- foot buffer of vegetation that was to shield the entrance from Route 2. Thorndike said the campground was not supposed to be so visible from Route 2 and one of the permit conditions that Fenoff did not adhere to was maintaining the buffer all the way around the property.
He said that when one substantial establishment is allowed that much exposure to the road, it leads the way for others to follow. A fear that Route 2 in Danville would increasingly become developed was part of the issue weighed in the decision handed down by the commission.
In Cahoon's resignation letter, he said he was opposed to the project - not because he felt it was in the wrong location for a campground - but that it could have been built in a way that would not have contributed to what he considers i
nevitable strip development of Route 2 in the town.
However, Fenoff said he thought a log cabin with green grass around it and a rustic stone wall in front of it fit in with the Vermont character the town plan seeks to preserve.
He said Tuesday he admits he violated his Act 250 state land use permit with the addition of a second sign marking the campground. He said he also swapped the approved positions of the putting green and miniature golf course because of the way the land was shaped. But, he said, it was never his understanding he needed to keep the buffer at the entrance of the campground.
He said the buffer was his proposal to protect adjacent landowners who were afraid campers would wander on to their land. "We did not agree at any time to stay 300 feet off Route 2," he said.
In the commission's written decision, a concern with Fenoff's request to open a miniature golf course and craft shop to the public was the fear it would draw too much publicity and traffic to the area.
Fenoff said that his decision to open the minature golf course and craft shop was based on the number of suggestions from residents of Danville to do so.
Thorndike said he was also upset with what they felt was a lack of consultation between Fenoff and the commission. Thorndike said Fenoff should have come before the board with any changes to the project.
But Fenoff said it was his understanding that all he needed to do was submit the final blueprint approved by the Act 250 commission to the town offices.
Town Clerk Virginia Morse confirmed that he did turn the blueprint in and she signed for it.
And both sides agree that the commission never saw that blueprint. Fenoff said Cahoon told him he didn't need to come in every time there was a change, just keep the commission informed.
"The bulk of this was a communication gap," said Deborah Gonyaw, the remaining commissioner and newly appointed chairman of the commission.
Gonyaw said she did not feel her decision was made under any pressure from the town.
"Personally, I don't feel that other people were trying to force our decision," she said.
However, Thorndike said he did not feel the amendments should be approved. He said he felt the commission should have tried to work with Fenoff to help him find a way to meet the permit conditions.
Enos, who abstained from much of the discussion surrounding the campground because of a conflict of interest, said he was upset by the pressure the public brought on the zoning board. A letter of support, that Fenoff said was signed by an overwhelming majority of the town, was part of the reason Enos said he felt pressured.
He said he had planned to resign from the board before the issue came up. "I felt it was time for some new viewpoints," he said.
On Tuesday, Steve Parker, administrative assistant to the selectmen, denied charges that the selectmen were interfering in the decision.
"I would say that the selectboard wanted to have the project approved essentially, yes," he said. "They also wanted to stay out of the way as much as possible. ... I don't believe (the commission was) being, in any way, pressured by the selectboard."
Fenoff said he plans to open the campground on schedule May 1, and said it is approximately 75 percent completed.
Gallagher said an Act 250 hearing is being scheduled for some time in December.