Deerfield residents reject frontage bylaw, OK proposal for chain stores

  • From left, Deerfield Selectboard members Carolyn Shores Ness, Trevor McDaniel and Chair David Wolfram raise their cards to vote at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting at Frontier Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • More than 180 Deerfield residents attended Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting at Frontier Regional School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2021 7:16:10 PM

DEERFIELD — Residents shot down a zoning bylaw revision that would have reduced frontage requirements for town-owned lots and approved a new bylaw requiring chain stores to consider rural character in their designs over the course of four hours at Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Article 17 was a proposed bylaw that would have reduced town-owned lot frontage requirements to 50 feet. While not specifically designed for the proposed North Main Street Park project, much of the discussion was centered around the park.

Judith Rathbone, an abutter of the North Main Street lot, said more studies and public hearings should have been done before this bylaw appeared on the warrant.

“With some study and input, perhaps some new and more reasonable bylaws could be crafted for municipal facilities,” Rathbone said. “I would urge us to wait until that point in the future rather than going whole hog right now.”

Rathbone added that this bylaw would also disturb neighborhoods all around town, not just hers.

“The main argument in favor of Article 17 is that because it’s the government doing the proposed development it should be allowed,” Rathbone said. “Intensive development undertaken without the protection of dimensional bylaws on town property all over town will have a serious, detrimental impact on all of the neighbors.”

Selectboard member Trevor McDaniel said the bylaw wouldn’t let the town run rampant with developments. He also addressed concerns about the town purchasing and planning structures on lots without thinking about existing bylaws.

“We think it’s reasonable and there will be a lot of checks and balances with the Planning Board,” McDaniel said. “In municipal projects, you learn as you go. I’d like to be honest with everybody, as we’re trying to get this ballpark to go in … you run into issues where you need to have some access.”

After 25 minutes of debate, the town ultimately voted against the bylaw.

Article 18 concerned a “formula-based business” bylaw, which would apply to chain stores or restaurants moving into Deerfield. The bylaw defines a chain store as any business that has 10 or more stores worldwide and can be identified by standardized features such as color, facade or decor. It will not apply to consumer services such as banks, law offices or health clinics.

Finance Committee member Albert Olmstead Jr. said the town has been losing businesses and tax dollars for more than five decades, and this bylaw would only discourage future businesses from moving in.

“We are asked to hang up the unwelcome sign, telling businesses that we only want a select few,” Olmstead said. “We are anything but a business-friendly town.”

Resident Lili Dwight said Deerfield should adopt a bylaw such as this because the times have drastically changed and the town should try something new.

“How we grow is very different than in the 1970s. Lots of malls are empty now,” Dwight said. “The internet has changed the world.”

Resident Tolly Stark emphasized the bylaw would not ban businesses from moving into town, and is an attempt to work for the town’s future.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about the past, but I haven’t heard that much about the future,” Stark said. “Here we see a Planning Board picking up the mantle for our future, looking toward what we want to create and getting away from what we don’t want.”

After more than 40 minutes of debate, the town approved the bylaw. Some residents had their hands up trying to continue the discussion but someone had already made a motion to move the question. According to the moderator, the town bylaws state discussion could not continue unless the motion to move the question was shot down.

Residents approved a fiscal year 2022 budget of $15.78 million, which is less than the original number proposed because Frontier Regional and Union 38 school districts Superintendent Darius Modestow and the School Committee made an amendment to the warrant when the schools determined they did not need the amount of money originally requested.

Residents also passed revised solar bylaws that laid out more specific regulations involving medium- and large-scale solar arrays. A motion to table the article for the fall was proposed, but residents decided to vote on Saturday. The bylaws feature new “green development standards” that provide developers with incentives if they design projects in “environmentally responsible ways,” explained Planning Board Chair Analee Wulfkuhle.

Additionally, Saturday’s meeting attendees opted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday for all benefited town employees, change Columbus Day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” and adopt the gender-neutral term “Selectboard” over “Board of Selectmen.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.


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