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Selectmen reviewing attorney's letter on Douglas Drive

July 09, 2014
BETHLEHEM— Ten elected officials in Bethlehem sat at the same table on Monday night for a joint meeting of the selectmen and planning board. The issue of requiring site plan review for the Dalton drag strip access was the topic of discussion.

The drag strip idea has been highly contested over the last several years. Bethlehem cannot say yes or no on the drag strip itself, but could review whether the quarter mile of Douglas Drive in Bethlehem was sufficient for the expected level of traffic to the drag strip.

Only the selectmen, not the planning board, can require compliance with town rules. Two weeks before, the selectmen unanimously voted to not require landowner Douglas Ingerson to submit a site plan review application for the project.

Sandy Laleme, chairman of the board of selectmen and ex officio member of the planning board, said the selectmen had just received a new letter from the town's attorney. The letter, Laleme said, discusses the issue of site plan review and Douglas Drive. Because the letter was received shortly before the meeting, Laleme requested two weeks of review time to consider the "very lengthy" letter. The two boards will then meet again to consider options going forward.

"We will do our due diligence," Laleme said, regarding the selectmen's review of the new letter from the attorney. Laleme added that the selectmen should have received advice from their attorney before the vote two weeks ago against requiring site plan review materials from Ingerson.

A short time was allowed for public comment on Monday. Concerned residents from both Bethlehem and Whitefield spoke. All requested that the selectmen consider how noise, traffic, and other drag strip side effects could impact their neighborhoods.

Ingerson has a Department of Transportation driveway permit for the drag strip, and has improved the Douglas Drive intersection with Route 116 as part of that process. The planning board requested Ingerson submit a site plan review application on the road's adequacy, but he has not done so.

Planning board member Andrea Bryant suggested the selectmen should enforce the town's zoning ordinance. "We spent a lot of time researching the project," Bryant said regarding the numerous planning board meetings that have occurred on the drag strip. Alternate member Jeanne Robillard was concerned that a bad precedent could be set if the selectmen declined to enforce town rules.

"What is there for us to enforce if there's no application?" asked selectman Mark Fiorentino. Alternate planning board member Don Lavoie responded, "We don't know what the impact is" from the drag strip without site plan review. "The public has a right to be heard on this," Lavoie said. The process need not be burdensome or antagonistic between the applicant and board members, he continued.

Selectman Jerry Blanchard wondered why the planning board did not require site plan review for Douglas Drive impacts before Ammonoosuc Asphalt began operations several years ago. Current planning board chairman David Wiley said the board did not wish to go back and review that old issue.

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