Decision details Georgia Beach project denial

Donated materials to construct the proposed 6,000-square foot structure from local businessman Jim Bryce are pictured in the municipal park at Georgia Beach last month. Days later, Bryce removed them from the property and eventually rescinded his offer; in a final blow to the project, the planning commission denied it site plan approval. (File photo by Abby Ledoux)

A June 27 decision details the Georgia Planning Commission’s 4-1 denial of the town’s proposed construction of a new facility at Georgia Beach – an offer donor Jim Bryce has since rescinded.

The planning commission determined the town’s site plan did not “adequately address issues of access to the new structure,” citing lacking consideration for loading and unloading, pedestrian circulation and vehicle access, noting the latter could interfere with the site’s septic system.

The selectboard and Ruggiano Engineering representatives first presented the site plan to the commission at a May 9 hearing heavily attended by beach neighbors.

There, commissioners reviewed plans for the proposed 60 by 100-foot building – constructed with labor and material provided for free by Bryce, a Georgia businessman – meant to replace the aging pavilion at the lakefront park. Officials estimated Bryce’s donation at upward of $350,000.

Dialogue grew heated when some planning commissioners and residents openly scrutinized the aesthetics of the structure, a pre-fabricated steel enclosure with cedar siding in keeping with others that populate Bryce’s Arrowhead Industrial Park.

Before continuing deliberations, commissioners bemoaned a western wall that would block lakefront views; residents criticized the project as a closed-door deal between Bryce and the selectboard, leaving little to no room for public input.

Some contrasted Bryce’s 2011 donation of the town’s $1 million fire station, a project they said was more collaborative.

Over the years, town officials said, Bryce has provided maintenance to the fire station, swiftly sending workers to replant a felled tree or complete other tasks he deemed necessary while passing by.

Much of that generosity flew under the radar, given Bryce’s notably humble reputation. In a June 12 statement, selectman Ric Nye said the latest rejection of Bryce’s attempted donation spells the end of his bounty toward the town.

“I cannot begin to calculate what has been lost, nor can I fathom what has been gained,” Nye said.

In the same statement, Nye said “the behavior of the planning commission and others” at the May 9 hearing, which he categorized as disrespectful toward both donor and project, was responsible for Bryce withdrawing his offer.

“I honestly believe that had this project been successful, it would have led to more offers, which could have been easily over $1 million,” Nye said. “Sadly, this is not only a huge loss to the taxpayers, but worse yet, my grandchildren and hundreds of other children have now been denied the use of a great facility.”

Selectboard chairman Chris Letourneau told the Independent last month he felt the planning commission’s decision was personal.

“I’m in favor of the planning commission treating [town] stuff with more scrutiny than anybody else’s … but I don’t think that scrutiny was there,” he said then.

Planning commissioners begged to differ.

Their three-and-a-half-page decision cites 13 findings of fact, ultimately concluding the town’s proposal fell short of four requirements in Georgia’s Development Regulations: site plan, site design, landscaping and screening and outdoor lighting.

Most explanation was given to the site plan deficiencies. First, commissioners said, the town proposed no access for loading and unloading at the proposed building that would not negatively affect the site’s wastewater disposal field.

There was also no consideration for pedestrian walkways from the existing athletic fields to the south of the building site across a grassy swale, which the commission deemed a safety hazard.

The town’s proposal included relocating the septic, but commissioners said engineers failed to identify where, leading them to believe vehicle access could interfere with the infrastructure.

The site plan didn’t provide adequate grading and drainage detail, the decision said, noting the new building’s nearly five-foot elevation increase went unaddressed.

For site design, the proposal “failed to consider the existing features of the site and surrounding areas,” the decision reads.

Under the remaining criteria, the PC said the proposal didn’t consider screening and failed to show the building wouldn’t negatively impact adjacent landowners’ property. The proposed structure is two feet taller than the existing building, site plans show; commissioners said those measurements also exclude the building’s fascia height and show no frost wall.

Finally, the decision cited the project’s lacking lighting plan, taking issue with engineers’ testimony that no outside lighting would be necessary.

Planning commissioners Suzanna Brown, Tara King, Maurice Fitzgerald and Greg Drew all opposed the project; George Bilodeau cast the lone vote in favor. Tony Heinlein, who was absent for the May 9 hearing, and chairman Peter Pembroke both abstained.

The town ¬has until July 27 to appeal the decision to the Vermont Environmental Court, but officials say there are no plans to do so, given Bryce’s withdrawal of the initial offer.

“It is indeed a sad time for the town of Georgia,” Nye said.

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