Residents of a Milton neighborhood say they weren’t properly warned about a Development Review Board meeting in March of this year that led to the approval of a 34.5-acre sand extraction site a stone’s throw from their backyards.
Many of the residents say they were not aware of the approval of the project proposed by J&M Sand on McMullen Road, until now.
State statute requires all adjoining landowners be notified of such a meeting beforehand, including those living across public right of ways, such as a river, a stream or a public road.
Winter Lane residents live on the other side of a railroad, which is privately owned. Their homeowner’s association owns the common land that abuts the sand pit’s future site and say they were not informed of the March meeting.
“I received nothing. I work with the association,” said Karyn Carstensen, who lives on Winter Lane, and is secretary of the Winter Lane Homeowner’s Association.
In 2015, when a 78-acre sand pit project was originally proposed for the site, the association was warned, and many neighbors attended to voice their concerns. The DRB subsequently denied the proposal. J&M appealed to the Vt. Environmental Court but then voluntarily dismissed the case, town documents show.
Carstensen said the HOA’s treasurer, who received the 2015 notification, didn’t receive anything this time around.
“Pretty much everyone in the neighborhood felt that this concept was dead,” she said. “Lo and behold, there was a meeting in 2017 that our association was not informed about. At least not the way that we had been informed in the past.”
Karen Ciechanowicz, who also lives on Winter Lane, said the DRB’s 2015 denial states the project would have “an adverse impact on the comprehensive plan.”
Ciechanowicz said the new project was reviewed under the same comprehensive plan.
“It truly boggles my mind,” she said.
Ciechanowicz said she is seeking legal counsel on the matter of not being warned.
“We didn’t find out until Act 250 notified us,” she said of the landmark planning law enforced by state regulators. “It doesn’t give us much time.”
J&M Sand applied for an Act 250 land use permit in September. The open comments period allowing the public to express concerns ended on December 10.
Town planning director Victor Sinadinoski said Winter Lane residents live on the opposite side of a privately-owned railroad, so they weren’t required to be notified.
“‘Adjoining landowner’ includes people who live across a public right-of-way,” he said. “The problem is that the railroad is privately owned – so we notified the railroad. It’s ambiguous on whether we need to notify, or we had to notify people beyond the railroad.”
Sinadinoski did say some residents beyond the railroad tracks were notified, but not everyone. He was unsure if the town vetted the list of adjoining landowners, which was provided by J&M, to ensure all stakeholders were included.
He admitted this most likely impacted the fate of the project.
“Since no one showed up at the 2017 meeting, I imagine that there were less conditions on this approval than would have been put on,” Sinadinoski said.
Sinadinoski said the town is helping residents get the resources they need to research the project and voice their concerns.
He also said the town is taking “precautions” going forward to ensure the mix-up in properly warning the project doesn’t happen again.
Going forward, he said, the town will make physical copies of all notifications going out to the public and double check the adjoining landowners lists to ensure all relevant parties are notified.
He also said they will now notify property owners on the opposite side of railroad tracks, even if they’re privately owned.
“It seems like the right thing to do,” he said.
John Hemsted has lived on East Road in Milton for 18 years and has been “engulfed” in fighting the sand pit since its conception, he said.
Hemsted said after being misinformed by a town official about the March meeting, he didn’t find out about the sand pit until it was too late. He fought and organized an opposition to the project in 2015.
Last week, Hemsted said he handed out 80 fliers to residents along McMullen Road and Hobbs Road, the route trucks will take to and from the site if approved by Act 250.
“Not one person knew that there was a sand pit going in for the next 10 years,” he said. “And that they will see upwards of 800 trucks a month going by their house. That’s 400 unloaded and 400 loaded. And let me tell you, they weren’t happy.”
Neighbors have used the Act 250 public comments period and have received an initial response from J&M about their concerns. They now must respond to J&M by December 29.
J&M is also applying for a wetlands permit that is open to public comment until January 3.
Hemsted said he will not stop fighting.
“Again, this isn’t a deck behind somebody’s house,” he said. “This is a forking loud sand pit just outside Milton with the only route going through the center of [town].
“Common sense says, ‘Well that’s stupid.’ Common sense doesn’t always prevail,” he said.