Village Concerns Dominate Planning Parley

10/20/20 Joint Board Meeting with Planning/Zoning Boards

by Irene Wrenner

October 21, 2020

Multiple planning boards came together via technology on October 20th to discuss the Town Selectboard’s proposed merger charter and potential impacts to existing plans, codes, and regulations.

 

Members of the Town and Village Planning Commissions and Zoning Boards, along with Community Development Staff members, connected in a rare meeting with the Selectboard and Village Trustees. They were slated to discuss how to reconcile two community centers and how their independent departments would combine, if merger were to pass.

 

A good portion of the meeting was taken up by Trustee George Tyler’s PowerPoint Presentation (sample slide below) about development initiatives in the Village center. One take away: Tyler explained that it costs more money to develop inside the Village versus outside the Village, but it’s worth it, in his opinion.

 

Long-time Village Planning Commissioner John Alden said, “I gotta say that was a little bit of a one-sided presentation, which George admits. ... It would be fair to say that both the Town and the Village both have significant initiatives and planning operations in place and underway.”

 

Nick Martin, Town Zoning Board Member asked, if someone from the town boards, "in the interest of fairness”, could present what they have been diligently working on for the Town Center and preservation of our wilderness areas. 

 

Tracey Delphia, Martin’s peer on the ZBA, suggested gathering these boards around a topic on an annual basis.

 

Convening these six boards was suggested five years ago at the conclusion of Thoughtful Growth in Action — a $10,000+ project to determine the future of consolidated planning in Essex. But they never met. The TGIA recommendations for two district-based DRBs, while still desired by some in attendance, were brushed off tonight by others as inappropriate for a merged community.

There is precedent for maintaining duplicate independent departments in the current merger plan: two libraries and fire departments.

 

Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney acknowledged Tyler’s passion for Village development, and assured him that “at least as long as I’m on this board, the Selectboard is not going to forget about the Village. … I sense a deep concern, worry and even a fear that the momentum that’s happening in the Village is gonna go away.”  She went on to remind the assembly that limitations cannot be placed on a future Selectboard.

 

Tyler pointed out: “If merger is successful ... half of the Selectboard is gonna be from the Village. So, I can assure you, your culture is gonna change. And it will be focused on the Village center because half the board is gonna be from the Village. And they’re gonna wanna focus on the Village center. … We didn’t set the Town up to absorb the Village.

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… So get ready, Town Selectboard your culture is gonna change, if merger is successful.

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Tyler’s statement about the new Selectboard is not accurate. In the initial one-year transition after a successful merger vote, half of the new Selectboard would be Trustees and half would be Selectboard. The Trustees will all be from the Village, and it’s likely some Selectboard members will also be from the Village, making a Village majority for that first year. After the first year, the one at-large Selectboard member will determine the majority. Never will Village residents comprise precisely half the new Selectboard under the "4+3" model the Village has included in their charter. 

 

Regarding headcount, Tyler explained that all planning staff are considered necessary in a merged community, so there are no savings anticipated in community development post-merger. 

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