POULTNEY — After residents voted not to amend town zoning bylaws over a month ago, black and yellow campaign signs urging a “yes” vote on Article 2 still pepper the parking lot outside the VEMAS building on Route 30.
After residents urged the Select Board to take action against property owner Len Knappmiller to have the signs taken down, Town Manager Paul Donaldson agreed on Monday to send a letter of notice of violation within the week.
“This is not your ordinary run-of-the-mill violation,” said resident Neil Vreeland, who earlier this year filed a complaint against Knappmiller alleging he was shining a floodlight directly into the Vreeland’s home to harass them. “He’s been sticking his thumb in our eyes for two months now. It’s not one or two, it’s about 12 signs. Everybody sees it coming into this town and it’s a horrible eyesore. I don’t think he’s going to do anything unless someone pushes him to do it.”
Donaldson said the issue was simply time. As the town manager, zoning administrator and animal control officer, Donaldson has been busy getting the Slate Valley Trails set up and expanded, and is working with the USDA and state agencies to redevelop the downtown (including hashing out the idea of convincing a bank to come back).
“I’ve tried to go the easy route with Mr. Knappmiller,” Donaldson said. “I’ve tried to stay neutral this whole time. ... In my job, you have to prioritize things.”
Poultney zoning bylaws allow up to two signs displayed on a given property, and signs may contain up to 35 square feet of area on one side unless more than one side of a sign is used, in which case the area of all sides shall be included in the total allowable area.
Select Board Chairman Jeff King asked residents attending Monday’s meeting how much money they think the Select Board should spend on environmental court fees to legally address the issue, but Vreeland said that measure wasn’t necessary, and the select board should send Knappmiller a notice of violation of the town zoning bylaws.
“That’s typing up a letter,” Vreeland said.
Donaldson said he has attempted to correspond with Knappmiller via email. Donaldson said Knappmiller told him in previous correspondence that he would take the signs down, but was busy with other matters.
Resident Peter Woelfel claimed he might be responsible for getting one of Knappmiller’s signs taken down — by calling the State Police.
“It was too big, it was above the ordinance, it was on an unregistered trailer with no taillights,” Woelfel said.
It was a resounding “no” in early July to zoning changes that could have eased the way for a Dollar General after residents shot down Article 2, 549-302, according to town officials. However, Knappmiller’s signs urging a “yes” vote have remained up.
Article 1, which would put in place more restrictive zoning policies, raked in 414 votes for and against, and poll workers said they double-checked.
Because of a tie vote, Article 1 was rejected. Twenty-five voters left their vote for Article 1 blank. Only two left Article 2 without a vote, officials said.
The two articles in the special election were spurred by two petitions submitted earlier this year, one by legal counsel for Poultney Properties LLC, owned by Knappmiller, and one on behalf of the “legal voters” of the town of Poultney.
At an informational meeting the night before the vote, residents questioned how each of the zoning amendments would affect the district. Planning Commission Chairwoman Jamie Lee said the ballot item regarding Knappmiller’s petition would allow for very little oversight by the town on future projects in the Poultney Properties buildings at 61 Beaman St., including parking, lighting, environmental impact and traffic studies.
“He bought it with the intention to put a Dollar General there almost two years ago,” Donaldson said in an earlier interview. “There are summary judgments pending in environmental court. In the meantime, he petitioned to get the zoning.”
Poultney resident C.B. Hall spoke often against Knappmiller’s petition, claiming that the installment of a Dollar General would result in an immediate drop in sales for local stores while only providing a handful of low-paying jobs.
Hall said rather than waiting for the “ax to fall” and a large box store to move into town, residents could seek a future focused on investing in small communities and providing quality employment.
“Our zoning needs to protect that future, and we need to bend our energies in that direction,” Hall said.