BETHEL – Since 2002, the Planning Board has approved 29 subdivisions in town, with 16 of those permitted just in the past year.

And board members want to bring townspeople’s attention to the pace of growth, Planning Board Chairman Al Cressy said, because the number of potential new homes could strain town services, as well as affecting trail access and affordable housing.

“It is time to start thinking about addressing that growth,” Cressy said Wednesday by phone.

At the selectmen’s Tuesday night meeting, he gave them statistics and graphs showing how local growth has stepped up recently.

“Oftentimes, the Planning Board reviews these applications and, in general, people are not aware of what is happening,” he said.

The Planning Board has not recommended any major changes to the town ordinances, but has suggested the town revisit its comprehensive plan, which could lay the groundwork for ordinance changes in the future.

After listening at the selectmen’s meeting to the discussion about grappling with the bigger picture of growth, Larry Engdahl, a Planning Board member, said the board needs to shift its focus.

“We need to look at planning and the way we do it,” he said. “We look at the letter of the ordinance and its nuances. We deal with the mechanics of the ordinance, not why they are there.”

In his report, Cressy listed areas that could be impacted by the number of new subdivisions in town.

“In the worst-case scenario,” he said at the meeting, “almost 200,000 tons of garbage could result from those lots if they were fully built out, with three people in each building.”

More traffic would put increased wear on town roads, requiring extra maintenance.

Fire protection, too, becomes an issue because many of the subdivisions are being built in remote areas.

Cressy also suggested that affordable housing might become scarce as property values rise.

“This is a subjective, nonscientific observation,” he said. “But it is another big issue, the social issue.”

Town Manager Scott Cole said Wednesday by phone that Bethel can’t encourage or discourage subdivision growth, but that the town could adapt its ordinances to allow growth while not compromising what it has.

“You make sure that the town code makes sense for everyone involved – developers, neighbors, common facilities, the solid waste system, fire, ambulance, police,” he said.

“My own opinion is much of what is happening will happen anyway, but like a ship, you can change the rudder a few degrees. Hopefully, we will make the right choices.”



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