Brandon SB talks meeting rules, zoning, and slate roof


BRANDON—The Brandon Selectboard convened for its regular meeting on Monday evening. For the first time in months, the town budget was not on the agenda, having passed on its third public vote last week. 

In a shakeup of the usual order of its agenda, the Board chose to approve the warrant immediately following the town manager’s report (printed in full in this issue) and the Rec director’s report (available in full in the Selectboard packet for 5/27 on the town website). 


The warrant was in the amount of $1,367,717.67 and covered the town’s obligations and expenses, including payroll. After the warrant was approved unanimously by the Board, a resident asked about a $200 expenditure to Greenleaf Design, which covered a fee to a landscape design firm that instructed volunteer gardeners on the maintenance of the bioswales on Park and Pearl Streets, which were in need of upkeep.

The resident stated that the town had informed her that it was not involved with the volunteer project. She asserted that the expenditure was thus inappropriate. The Board defended the expenditure, claiming that the $200 expenditure to teach volunteers to maintain the swales was less expensive in the long run than having the town maintain them.

Wheeler Road Scoping Study

The Board voted unanimously to accept a $75,000 grant to perform a scoping study on the bridge and culvert near the intersection of Wheeler Road and Marble Street. The purpose of the study is to have civil engineers develop a plan for the rehabilitation and repair of the aforementioned infrastructure so that the town would be positioned to apply for other grants to complete the actual work. Without an engineer’s plan in hand, the town would likely be ineligible for government funding for the project.

The grant requires a $25K match from the town, of which $5K will come from outside grants. This leaves $20K for the town to cover on its own. The Board voted unanimously to use the 1% Local Option Tax fund to cover this expense.

Act 250 Local Zoning Change

The Board discussed a potential change to Brandon’s Land Use Ordinances that would raise the threshold for Act 250 review from 1 acre to 10 acres. Though Act 250 is a state law, it grants municipalities leeway to decide for themselves at which threshold review would be triggered under the statute.

Brandon had opted for review at one acre when the town feared that the 10-acre default threshold would encourage development that Brandon was not equipped to absorb (e.g., schools, water, sewer, etc.). 

Town Manager Seth Hopkins stated that Brandon was in a different position now and it was in the town’s interest to encourage more development, as the low threshold was deterring smaller-scale projects that could help boost the town’s economy. Deputy Town Manager Bill Moore noted that a local developer had been tied up for years with an expensive Act 250 review on a proposed miniature golf course north of the village.

Board member Tim Guiles said the change would help encourage the construction of affordable housing. 

“It’s smart to go back to the 10-acre minimum,” he continued.

Board member Ralph Ethier expressed concern that raising the threshold might remove some protections for those who lived adjacent to smaller parcels, but it was noted that Brandon’s own Land Use Ordinances and Development Review Board (DRB) would continue to restrict the kind and scope of projects that could be undertaken. Mr. Ethier also expressed concern that the cost of a DRB hearing ($250) might be prohibitive for some residents.

Ultimately, the Board agreed to table the agenda item until the next regular meeting in order to allow members to study the issue in greater depth before making a decision.

Name for New Road

The Board unanimously approved the use of Spikehorn Lane for a common drive serving several lots off of Birch Hill Road. The owners of those parcels were asked to submit a name to be used by the town and by emergency and postal services to identify the roadway. “Spikehorn Lane” was the name that was submitted by those landowners.

Slate Roof for Town Hall

The Board approved (4 to 1, with Brian Coolidge the sole nay) the proposal received from Sbardella Slate, Inc. of Fair Haven to repair the slate roof of the Town Hall. The total cost of the proposal is $294,800, which covers the repair and replacement of the slate roof. The full proposal with itemized costs is available in the Selectboard packet for 5/27 on the town website.

The cost of the project will be covered by specifically designated ARPA funds, $25K left from an insurance settlement on damage to the roof last summer, and approximately $55K in ARPA funds returned to the town from the $60K that had been allocated to the proposed town-owned solar array that voters rejected in March (some of the $60K had been spent on admin costs for the failed bond). 

To replace the underlying wood decking (in addition to merely replacing the slate) would cost an additional $36,800. But it was not clear that the decking would need to be replaced. And any re-used slate tiles from the current roof would be credited to the total cost.

Mr. Hopkins suggested that any overage in the budget for the project come from the 1% fund.

Mr. Coolidge objected to Sbardella’s proposal on the grounds that a local roofer had thought Sbardella’s quote was too high and also that the town lacked the ability to oversee the project.

Mr. Hopkins replied that the local roofer had come to more or less the same cost when the specs of the project had been explained to him. Board member Heather Nelson asked Mr. Coolidge why the town would be better equipped to oversee a local roofer.

Sbardella had informed the town that it would take 8 to 12 weeks to receive delivery of the slate tiles once the Board approved the project.

Time Allotment for Speakers at Board Meetings

Mr. Guiles proposed a change to the Board’s written rules of procedure to limit public comments to 2 minutes per person. Currently, the rules do not set a time limit on public comments.

The proposed change was in response to a comment made by a resident at the last Board meeting that lasted for more than 8 minutes and was sharply critical of the Board, the Brandon Police, and this newspaper.

Mr. Guiles stated that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns recommended “reasonable” time limits on speakers. He also said that he felt 2 minutes was sufficient time for community members to make their views known to the Board. He reminded attendees that public comment was not the appropriate means to try to get the Board to take action. Instead, he recommended that residents ask for their concern to be placed on the posted agenda for the meeting.

Ms. Nelson acknowledged that the Board needed to hear from its constituents but added that the volume and intensity of some of the criticisms directed toward her and the Board during public comment had sometimes made it difficult for her to perform at her best during meetings. She also suggested that public comment would be better at the end of meetings. 

“If something doesn’t change, I don’t see how anyone would be able to stay on the Board for very long,” she said. The agenda for Monday’s meeting did move public comment to the end of the meeting from its prior position just after the town manager’s and Rec director’s reports.

Board Chair Doug Bailey stated that 2 minutes was “enough to tell us we’re not doing our job.”

Mr. Coolidge opposed the change and said, “It sounds like you’re trying to silence people. We shouldn’t hurry people out of here.”

Mr. Ethier did not believe that 2 minutes would be enough for some people to get their point across, especially if they were not used to public speaking.

The motion was rejected 2 to 3, with Mr. Coolidge, Mr. Ethier, and Ms. Nelson voting no.

In a subsequent email to The Reporter, Ms. Nelson explained that she voted against the motion because she wanted to get more feedback from the community before making the change. She also noted that the Board’s decision to move public comment to the end of the meeting might obviate the need for time limits.

Mr. Hopkins did ask the Board to approve an addition to the rules that would make them binding on all town committees that didn’t already have their own set of procedures. The Board unanimously approved the addition.

Change to Meeting Venue

Because the town has an agreement with the Chamber of Commerce to allow use of the main floor in Town Hall for the Chamber’s annual auction, the Board agreed to hold all meetings in the downstairs lobby until the Brandon Library relinquishes the Selectboard room in October.

Public Comment

In a change to the usual order, the public comment portion of the meeting on Monday came at the end of the evening.

A resident attending via Zoom asked the Board why the meeting had been held on a federal holiday. She said that it made it difficult for people to attend, especially when it might be the only extended time they have to spend with their families.

Mr. Bailey explained that the Board had always held to its second-and-fourth-Mondays schedule, even when a meeting fell on a federal holiday.

The Board then recessed for an executive session. Brandon resident Lisa Peluso was appointed to the Planning Commission during the session. Her full application for the position is in the Selectboard packet for 5/7 on the town website.

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