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This week the four candidates for Waitsfield Select Board answered two questions from The Valley Reporter about wastewater and the Flemer Barns.
Two of the candidates are running for re-election and two are challenging them. The incumbents are Sal Spinosa (board chair) and Charlie Hosford. The challengers are Scott Kingsbury and Chris Pierson.
Hosford’s term as select board member is up this year. In March, he will run for re-election for a three-year term against Kingsbury. Spinosa’s term as select board member is also up this year. He will run for re-election for a two-year term against Pierson.
The town of Waitsfield has an option to purchase the Flemer Barns parcel for $250,000 and currently has a task force considering what the best uses of the property might be.
The town is also working towards the creation of small decentralized wastewater systems to address the ongoing need for wastewater disposal in the village and Irasville. The town has worked to develop a revolving loan fund for private individuals (or groups of them) and businesses to borrow money to create the small systems.
The Valley Reporter: What are your thoughts about decentralized wastewater for Waitsfield and Irasville? Is it necessary? Why or why not?
Charlie Hosford: For 25 years the Waitsfield Town Plan has identified municipal water and wastewater as critical infrastructure improvements to our village and Irasville. In 2008 the "big pipe" wastewater solution was rejected in a bond vote and the town voted to proceed with a municipal water and hydrant system. The need for wastewater solutions hasn’t disappeared so the town has proposed (and the public accepted in 2012) a decentralized wastewater option. This will allow property owners to form associations and borrow low-interest money from the town to construct state-of-the-art engineered wastewater disposal systems. The presence of a town water system has reduced the overlapping septic and well protection zones making more areas suitable for decentralized wastewater systems. I fully support this public-private partnership to construct wastewater systems that eliminate impending health hazards and allowing limited and appropriate infill growth.
Scott Kingsbury: Decentralized sewer is an excellent idea for Waitsfield and Irasville. It is essential for our town’s growth and health. It is a much more affordable approach than the big pipe plan the town voted down a few years back. These systems need to be carefully planned to identify areas of need. There needs to be clear understanding of existing problems, such as failed systems. Systems that might not be adequate or have space for replacement fields need to be looked at. Education of potential users should be a big part of planning for a town like ours. There needs to be lots of communication throughout the initial planning. This sets the stage for an open, honest process that focuses on the needs of the community.
Chris Pierson: I have no doubt there are existing systems that require replacement or repair. One of the selling points of the towns’ municipal water system was it would relieve the setback pressure on many existing systems, which could be of potential concern, so I require an update as to which properties would now require such a system. Then I believe the town could work towards creating a plan assisting those involved, but only on a logistical and permitting level. In the event such a system was necessary for public health reasons, I would be open to a town-sponsored bond—requiring user fees pay the bonds interest and reimbursement. With regard to future development requiring this sort of infrastructure, the question is: Should we, the many, the taxpayers be subsidizing the few, the developers?
Is that the course the taxpayers of Waitsfield would like to take? Do we want to pay higher taxes so that a few developers and businesses can benefit greatly? Will the development’s positives outweigh the negatives? Once you allow a development to impact a community the change is irreversible. So we aren’t just talking about sewer here, we are talking about the character of the community as a whole.
Sal Spinosa: The decentralized wastewater project is a state loan-funded initiative that provides wastewater disposal through the development of privately owned, shared disposal systems. I support this program. These new systems consolidate the disposal needs of multiple businesses and/or residences, allowing for the abandonment of individual septic sites, which proliferate in Irasville and Waitsfield, with sometimes questionable reliability. The size of these shared systems is in keeping with our revered small-town scale. The advent of these new systems will allow for some commercial and residential expansion onto previously prohibited sites. Further, the funding model supports private ownership of these systems through very low-interest loans to be repaid by the system owners. The town, a conduit for these loans, can access matching grant funds that are available for municipal use including the payment of existing debt. This program has real advantages for both the individual and the town alike.
The Valley Reporter: If money were no object – really no object – what would you like to see happen with the Flemer Barns in the village?
Charlie Hosford: The town’s option to purchase the 4.5-acre Flemer Barns site ($250,000 purchase price) is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enhance our village and the MRV community. I believe Waitsfield should be the long-term owner of the property and partner with a community trust to develop the barns. I envision a consortium of nonprofit and for-profit organizations making up this community trust. I’d like to see the carriage barn developed into a youth-focused community center that offers educational and vocational opportunities for all age groups. The large, historic barn could support art, music and localvore-related activities. My clearest vision is that the Flemer Green, Flemer Barns and Flemer Farm Stand properties be master-planned together. Public access and use of these properties is essential. The on-site roads, off-street parking, water and septic systems, walking paths and community gardens are some of the features that master planning would address.
Scott Kingsbury: If money were no issue, I’d spend it on a community center that includes courts for tennis, basketball and indoor soccer with spaces for groups like Open Hearth or other kids’ groups or maybe a town-owned ski hill behind the barns. A space that supports a healthy life through exercise and activity is important to all of the kids in our community including Warren, Fayston and Moretown. The smaller barn would make a good spot for our library. It sits back off Route 100 so you could sit under trees outside the library and read a book. One common thing with my ideas for the parcel was something that gives back to our community. My biggest wish for these barns is a process where we work together as a community to identify what we’d like to see. The possibilities for these barns are endless both for private and public ownership.
Chris Pierson: If only the question were that easy. Money would be required for a feasibility study, up-fitting (insulation, structural upgrades to meet federal and state codes for public buildings) and the ongoing expenses associated with maintenance, insurance and utilities. The town already purchased an option on the property, and if the town took ownership of the property, the property would be removed from the grand list. This property tax deficiency would need to be made up by the rest of the town. Just like the other properties the town has purchased over the years, while the select board told us the properties were purchased for a specific purpose yet remain idle or have been repurposed for reasons other than those presented to the town’s taxpayers. The real question is does the town belong in the real estate development and property management business? Clouding it with the expansion of town offices is disingenuous.
Sal Spinosa: The select board established a study committee to evaluate and recommend to the board a course of action concerning the future of this parcel of land. The board will be expected to engage in a balanced, thorough and objective analysis of any recommendation before rendering a decision. Although I have some initial impressions about this potential project, I believe it would be inappropriate to voice them in advance of the completion of the committee’s work. Silence on this topic at this time will advance the work of the committee and help foster the fair review expected from the board. Some points, however, that the committee will examine that will be important in my review are the ownership structure, the planned potential uses, available partnerships, the effect on the tax base, potential income, the costs of needed repairs and upgrades and public sentiment.