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Waitsfield sidewalk project stalemates over power poles

A surveying error led to plans for Waitsfield's sidewalk as it enters the village from Irasville to be drawn incorrectly, which has the town trying to figure out what to do about the fact that the plans call for the sidewalk to be constructed through three utility poles.

To move the poles will either damage the street trees or encroach poles and guy wires onto private property. To move the sidewalk creates more problems, including moving it so close to the street trees that it will crack every five years.

The sidewalk-pole-tree dilemma was the subject of vigorous debate this week when the select board met on May 27.

"I want to know why we're finding this out now," said select board chair Paul Hartshorn.

Brian Baker, engineer for the DuFresne Group, said the survey was off along with the design. The survey work was done by Little River Surveying of Stowe. Town administrator Valerie Capels said engineer Mark Bannon is no longer involved with the project.

"It's the 11th hour here. How did this get discovered?" asked select board member Bill Parker.

"When the contractors got it laid out they discovered that the utility poles are three feet closer than they were drawn on the plans," Baker said.

The poles in question are near the Lowe, LaRochelle, Maclay and Pierson properties. To move the poles from the eastern side of Route 100 to the inside of the sidewalk (towards the river) would put the poles in conflict with the street trees. That would also require easements from the affected property owners for the relocated guy wires. To route the sidewalk around the poles creates other issues including having tree roots grow through the sidewalk every few years and also potentially damaging the tree roots, Baker said.

The board discussed an option to replace the three poles on the east side of Route 100 with one pole on the west side of Route 100 which would need to be placed on the front lawn of the white house owned by Jay Higgins. The new poles would be higher than the existing poles at 50 feet versus 35 feet.

Dori Ingalls, speaking for Higgins, said she felt everyone in the room was committed to keeping the tree canopy intact in Waitsfield Village and everyone was committed to the sidewalk project. She said that Higgins would consent to the single pole on his property if the town would consider changing the zoning on his parcel from residential to commercial. She said she understood the process was not that quid pro quo and also asked the town to consider that a new pole on the front lawn of a house that sits right on Route 100 does not make for a desirable residence. The nearby red barn is already used for commercial purposes and she asked if the home could be reclassified. She also asked if all other solutions had been explored, including putting the power underground or building a bridge.

"They need to be pouring that concrete and I think they expect to be done in a couple of weeks," Parker said.

"And the town needs confirmation that the Higgins parcel is not excluded from the commercial district. That whole area is village residential, which is mixed use," he added.

Bill Maclay and Ray LaRochelle who own the properties across the street said that their buildings were mixed use commercial and residential.

Parker also asked Baker if there is any way to swing the sidewalk so far around the trees towards the river as to create a feature or an outlook. Baker said that would require railings, bank stabilization and easements by the power company for the guy wires.

"In fairness to the property owners, we only heard about this a week and a half ago. I think we need to get it properly surveyed, and then have a meeting with the landowners and the town and Green Mountain Power. And we need to hire an arborist to determine the real impact on the trees," Maclay said.

In response to a question about whether this snafu would add cost to the project (for which the town has 90 percent grant funding and 10 percent local match), Parker and Hartshorn said that there would be an additional cost no matter what happens. There are penalties if the contractors are unable to finish the work.

The board voted unanimously to follow Maclay's suggestions and then discussed the situation at the Lowe property, which is to the south of LaRochelle's property.

"The trees on the Lowe property are probably going to have to go. The pole there will have to move. It's not a good solution for their property. The response should be to stabilize the bank and replace the trees maybe with a low growing hedge like lilacs," Capels said.

"I hope the bank, if it is rebuilt, is not done with rip rap. That would not look good in the scenic part of historic Waitsfield Village," Wes Lowe said.

"It's too bad we got to this point. I'm worried about cutting trees next to the Mad River," Hartshorn said.

 

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