Planning Board Staff Proposed
Summary of Ordinance Proposal by Hollis Planning Board Staff
During the fall of 2019 the planning department was reviewing draft language for proposed storm water ordinance changes. These changes are being driven by a federal EPA permit based on regulation that is changed due to a recent US Supreme Court ruling.
The proposed storm water ordinance is costly to the town and damages private property rights, business and agricultural interests.
It is likely that the changes are not needed or can be implemented in a limited fashion to protect the town.
Update 12-20-2020: The Planning Board has engaged the town engineer to propose revised stormwater restrictions and has indicated that the changes will be targeted for 2022.
Update 12-1: Exact text of Planning Board staff's proposal with explanation
Reasons not to remove stormwater restrictions from Zoning ordinance:
The Planning Board is considering placing amendments to stormwater requirements of the Hollis Zoning ordinance on the ballot in March. I strongly recommend against amending the town’s stormwater restrictions in any manner beyond what is legally required. I will address the problems in the proposal as stated below:
1. Removing requirements from the ordinance disenfranchises voters.
Removing stormwater requirements from the Zoning ordinance is anti-democratic. By changing the restrictions from ordinance to regulation, the Planning Board would be taking away the ability of town residents to vote on the rules of the town. Regulations are not voted on by the residents. Only the Planning Board members have a vote on town regulations. Why wouldn’t we allow the residents to determine such important issues? Hollis has a strong tradition of direct democracy that has served us well. We shouldn’t allow our input to be diminished.
2. Exceptions from regulations are easier than from ordinances.
It is far easier for a developer to get an exception to a regulation verses an ordinance. The process for exceptions to regulations includes a simple waiver request from the Planning Board. The criteria for issuing a waiver requires that the planning board agree that the requested exception is in the spirit of the regulation.
If the requirements remain in the zoning ordinance, the bar for exceptions is much higher. First off, a separate application must be made to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The ZBA is a more formal body with stricter rules. Applicants typically choose representation by a lawyer at the ZBA and once the case is heard, the ZBA must find that 5 strict criteria are satisfied before issuing a variance. Specifically, the developer must prove that following the ordinance poses a unique hardship. This is hard to satisfy.
It is clear that the will of the voters is more directly expressed by the Zoning Board Variance Process than it could be by the Planning Board waiver process. Consider the waivers that were issued to allow the construction of the Keyes Hill project or that might be issued for the 50-unit condo development on Silver lake Road. Don’t we want to enforce stormwater requirements rigorously? Voting to remove the stormwater restrictions from the Zoning ordinance is a vote to reduce the influence of town residents and relax the restrictions that our town depends on to maintain its rural population density.
3. Proposed regulation language has not been provided as of 11-16-2020.
Although planning staff has proposed removing our stormwater regulations from the Zoning Ordinance, as of yet they have not even identified what they propose to replace them with. How could anyone vote to remove the restrictions from our ordinance without knowing how such a vote would change our requirements?
4. Regulations can be changed without holding a town vote.
Even if Planning staff were to propose the regulations that they would like to enact. There is no guarantee that those regulations would not be changed in few months since the process for changing regulations requires only 1 public hearing and a vote of the Planning Board. The Planning department has even argued that this variability is a feature or a benefit of regulations. I see the process of amending zoning ordinance, which can occur only once per year and involves building consensus of the entire town as benefit. Even with the more rigorous process of ordinance amendment mistakes are made. This year the board is reversing 2 decisions taken in 2017 which, it turned out were detrimental to our town. It is important that residents exercise as much influence as possible to preserve the town we love.
5. The EPA has recently changed the requirements due to a Supreme Court case.
The town planner has claimed that the variability of moving the restrictions to regulations is needed to comply with EPA requirements. The EPA has changed its stance on these stormwater restrictions as recently as last year and has lost a lawsuit at the US Supreme court regarding the constitutionality of this mandate. Considering the EPA’s budget constraints and prior position changes it is unreasonable to expect them to enforce changing mandates on individual rural towns who aren’t a large source of pollution. Especially towns like ours that are vigilant about protecting our environment. Don’t let fear cloud the issue. Hollis needs to retain direct control over its stormwater ordinance.
6. Hollis is a beautiful town and our present regulations have made it so.
Another weak argument pushed to support disenfranchising residents by removing stormwater restrictions from the zoning ordinance is that the developments built in town are somehow unsightly or that the present regulations require storm basins that are too large. Hollis is one of the most beautiful towns in the state. Do you think our existing ordinance has done a poor job of preserving the esthetics of the town? The town planner points to a basin constructed on Pine Hill Rd as an example of overdesign. That basin’s vegetated slope is not offensive to the eye and keeping stormwater on site is an important achievement of the present ordinance.
7. Reducing stormwater requirements shifts costs from developers to the town.
Our present ordinance requires that stormwater be treated on site. It puts the cost of stormwater management onto the developers and not on the town. Runoff that leaves developments becomes a town problem to manage. Reducing the requirements for example to address a 10-year storm vs a 25-year storm would only serve to lower the cost of development for builders and shift that cost onto the town. Such a reduction in development cost will bring more new construction to town. Don’t we have enough already?
8. The ordinance’s purpose is to protect the town, not enable and simplify development.
The purpose of town requirements is to protect town resources. Planning staff has claimed that our ordinance is confusing and stormwater requirements are distributed across many regulations and ordinances. This unique regulatory scheme has been developed over many years by dedicated residents seeking to preserve the town. Restrictions are meant to protect town resources. If they are hard to administer or unique from other towns, this is a benefit, not a weakness. If administration of the existing regulatory scheme is difficult, I hold that the difficulty is a worthwhile cost of the protection they provide. Compare Hollis to other nearby towns. What do you think? Simplifying things for developers will only serve to homogenize Hollis with nearby jurisdictions and reduce costs for developers. Is this what we want?
Recommendation on proposed removal of stormwater restrictions from ordinance:
In conclusion, in order to preserve the right of residents to direct growth in town and to preserve our town’s resources, please tell the planning board to ensure that that the stormwater restrictions that have protected our town for years remain in our zoning ordinance and squarely in the hands of the town’s residents.
Letter to the Selectboard regarding Federal Storm water permit
Stream Flow From Rocky Pond, Hollis