POWNAL — Whether businesses can be allowed under Pownal’s rural residential zoning is central to a dispute involving John Babson’s proposal for a South Stream Road parcel.
During two previous meetings of the city’s Development Review Board, Babson had sought approvals to build a log home and for the business he runs, which includes logging and solid waste removal.
The businesses are based at his office on Gage Street in Bennington, he said Friday. His intention is to store trucks, log skids, dumpsters, dumpsters and other equipment at the Pownal property at 2853 South Stream Road.
Despite meetings in March and April, the board has yet to vote on the proposal, which sparked lengthy debate and numerous questions and concerns from residents. However, board members have discussed approving a variance for the proposed business use in a residential zone.
Among the strong objections registered during those meetings was realtor Paul Harsch, who represents a neighbor on the site who is trying to sell his property.
Harsh said this week that the city could face a lawsuit if a variance is granted for Babson’s property. He said his client, Deborah Eaton, of 2090 Maple Grove Road, has hired an attorney who plans to attend the next DRB hearing on Babson’s application, scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m.
“This is quite unusual for me to have to intervene to such an extent,” Harsh said in an email. “But I am very concerned that the brand new DRB board members have gone in a very troubling direction by entertaining the granting of a permit for a use that is expressly not permitted in [rural residential] area where Mrs Eaton’s property and the appellant’s adjoining property are situated.’
He added that the board and Zoning Administrator Michael Gardner “seem to remain determined to deflect and even ignore the bylaw to grant the sole applicant permit. Their reasoning is also disturbing that there are other cases scattered around the city where in recent years a small entrepreneur can keep his equipment at home for example, so they feel that would justify making an example here too, completely ignoring the impact of this line of thinking is all over town.
Neither the zoning administrator nor Gardner could be reached Friday for comment.
In the board’s meeting minutes for previous sessions, there is discussion of a 2008 decision allowing a former owner’s application for a home and garage on the same property.
However, Harsh argued that “the ‘proposed use’ in the permit clearly states ‘residential.’ Nowhere in the permit application or approved permit did it mention that the intended use of the property was for business purposes.
He added: “The DRB assumed they would grant continued business use of the property. This is false and misleading. The previous use was residential and the owner’s occasional practice of keeping a construction vehicle on site was not provided for in the permit and would not be permitted under the bylaw. If such use did occur, it either went unnoticed by city officials or went unnoticed if no complaints were made.
Reached by phone Friday, Babson said he has owned the lot for about two years, but there were no complaints until he applied for a business use permit.
Citing his intention to store vehicles on the property, he said it would be similar to other places in the city where company vehicles are stored on property. He added that a car business had previously operated on the lot he now owns, although he was not sure if a permit had been issued.
For Harsh, a key question is whether the city is consistently enforcing its zoning regulations.
“Members of the Town of Pownal DRB have a legal duty to carefully and consistently enforce existing bylaws for the benefit of all Town citizens, present and future,” he said. “For the DRB to grant, let alone accept, a nonconforming use application defies reason and law. If this or similar permits were granted, it would essentially remove all protections that property owners have a right to rely on regarding permitted and non-permitted uses in any part of the city.”
Referring to her role in trying to market Ethan’s home, Harsh said she “lost a really great opportunity to sell because of Mr. Babson’s property,” claiming any neighboring property “would have been almost impossible to sale’, if the requested permission is obtained.