What's going on in Germantown?


  Dear friends,

 When I first notified you all about the application to build a Dollar General store on Rt 9G my intent was to alert you about an issue for our Town that needed attention from everyone. I recommended that if you are really concerned you should arm yourself with some knowledge, starting with familiarizing yourself with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and then the Zoning Law that was developed in order to  implement the goals of the Comp  Plan. These documents are available on the Town’s website for reading on-line or they can be downloaded and printed out.


The Zoning Law is the basis for deciding the eligibility for a new sub-division and development. It has requirements for specific  aspects of the proposed project, including set-backs, landscaping, lighting, size of structure, parking requirements, the amount of allowable impermeable  surface, etc.etc.  The Planning Board has many tools that can be used to make a project more acceptable to the Town.  It can set standards that insure the best outcome.  However, it cannot make arbitrary decisions without the threat of legal action.  Any decision must be based on the Zoning Law requirements. 


When residents contemplate a new project they may find themselves with very strong feelings about it based on their own criteria for an appropriate use and appearance.  However, if it those criteria are not included it the Law they cannot be used to make the determination of the application. Our own Planning Board is comprised of people who contributed to the development of the Comprehensive Plan,  Several of them participated in the revision of the Zoning Law, and they drew it up sure that they had embodied the goals of the Comprehensive Plan to the best of their ability.


When I attended the initial presentation of the Primex  Company’s project I was impressed with the detailed questions from the Town Engineer, Fred Mastrioani, the Planning Board Chariman, Stephen Reynolds, and the Town Attorney, Tal Rappelyea.  It seemed to me that they made it clear to the applicant that every possible requirement within the law must be scrupulously followed–that the Town would accept no shortcuts, no fuzzy boundaries that could be fudged, and no structure built that didn’t comply with all the design and environmental requirements that are in the Law.


The turnout at the meeting also sent a message to the applicant:  that there was a significant level of concern about the project and that the Planning Board had all the support from the public they needed to set exacting standards.


However, the Zoning Law has its limits. It has no provision to prevent a project because people “hate” it or that it doesn’t fit the image of the Town. From the e-mails I have received I sense a great revulsion form many residents at the whole notion that such a ‘low class” enterprise would be allowed to be built.  It was my first reaction: UGH! I thought.(Yes, that was the exact thought.}


However, it may come to pass that if Primex decides that it is still worth it to them, despite the added cost of conforming to all the requirements put upon the project, that the Planning Board may find that it has no choice but to issue them approval because there may be no specific elements in the Law that allow them to deny it. What you can  be assured of is that if it is approved it will be the best  that the Zoning Law can compel. The landscaping, the structure, the drainage, the parking will all conform to what is laid out in the Zoning Law as required.  If residents are still very unhappy, if Planning Board members are frustrated, it will be necessary to review the Zoning Law immediately to see how it can be improved for future projects.


It is still important for you to express your feelings about the project. You, as residents, don’t have to confine yourselves to the letter of the Zoning Law. It is a good thing for the Planning Board to sense the attitudes of the Town’s residents.  As Ellen Epstein has written, your particular concerns may touch on an aspect that they have not considered, or an issue that had been inadvertently overlooked. But, I ask of you, do not abuse the Planning Board members, nor the Town administration out of your frustration. This is a hard task. Everyone is working for the best outcome. It must be done correctly and to the letter of the Law or the Town could face legal action.


Whatever the outcome, I believe the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Law should be promptly reviewed to see how it could be made stronger and with more specific wording in order to make it more effective in reflecting our community’s values.


There is a long march before us as the process is followed by the Planning Board and the applicant.  The Town Attorney has been asked to explain the process for the general public, and I will send that out to you all as soon as I have it.  It may be several months perhaps before a decision is made, so there is plenty of time to think about what you want to comment about and get it to the Planning Board for their consideration.   And then….perhaps Primex will abandon  this project because of all the bother and expense to conform to the requirements.  I think that many of us would be happy at that outcome.


I will try to keep you informed as best I  can 

 Kay Abraham 537-5404


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