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By Lisa Loomis
After a tied vote on whether to accept a $369,500 grant to extend a sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 in the village, the chair of the Waitsfield Select Board broke the tie after declaring that the state could not be trusted not to impose its will on the town or harm local businesses.
The select board at an October 14 meeting considered whether the town would accept the Safe Routes to School Grant to extend the sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 from Valley Players Theater to Farr Lane. The town has already received a grant and planned and engineered a sidewalk from Old County Road to Valley Players Theater.
The second phase of that project would have extended the sidewalk to Farr Lane and would have cost the town $36,500 or 10 percent of the overall cost.
Prior to the tied vote, which had select board members Bill Parker and Chris Pierson in favor of accepting the grant and board members Logan Cooke and Scott Kingsbury against accepting the grant, the board heard comments from the public about the project.
Troy Kingsbury, who owns The Village Grocery on the west side of Route 100 at the corner of Farr Lane and Route 100, told the board that while he is a strong supporter of sidewalks, he had serious concerns that the new sidewalk project would result in his primary sign being removed by the state. He explained that the sign in its current location is grandfathered in and that if anything happens to move it or change it in the slightest, the state will no longer allow it.
He said that despite assurances to the contrary, he is gravely worried about the future of his sign – and the success of his business – should the sidewalk project proceed.
"If the sidewalk project happens, I've been told by the state that my sign is gone. If my sign is gone, my business is gone," Troy Kingsbury said.
Board member Scott Kingsbury said that he thought extending the west side sidewalk was a bad idea because it does not have the curbing that exists on the east side.
Village resident Kirsten Seibert said that the town should take over Route 100 through Waitsfield from the state so that the town, rather than the state, could determine the specifics of sidewalks and other projects along that stretch. The town could take over the road but doing so would require that the town fund the upkeep, plowing and maintenance of the road.
Jennifer Stella, who works with Waitsfield's Safe Routes to School committee, said that while she disagreed with the state giving towns money that had strings attached, there is a serious need for properly marked crosswalks and sidewalks on the west side of the street.
"There's already a blacktop sidewalk from The Village Grocery and Waitsfield Wine Shoppe to Valley Players," Troy Kingsbury said.
"I'm not in favor of anymore sidewalks in the center. I favor the one by the school and I'm in favor of curbing on the east side," said board member Logan Cooke.
Town administrator Valerie Capels said that the sidewalk can be routed around Kingsbury's sign and that if it is not disturbed, it does not have to be removed.
"Does that solve your problem, Troy?" asked board member Bill Parker.
"I don't believe them. I don't trust the state. I support sidewalks and a sidewalk on the west side would increase my business," Kingsbury said.
"I don't want to underestimate the need for the sidewalk that has been expressed by people with kids at the school. I recognize that if you don't have kids at the school, you may not recognize the need. We should at least try and find a balance," Stella suggested.
Parker asked Waitsfield resident Steve Gladzcuk, who works with VTrans on sidewalk grants among other things, whether the town would be throwing the baby out with the bath water in rejecting the grant and whether the town could turn down the grant now and reapply.
Gladzcuk said that the grant process was not instantaneous and would take several years. He pointed out that this second phase of the west side sidewalk was only in the design phase and that the state would be willing to work with the town on the particulars of the project.
Parker said that it seemed like a mistake to him to reject the grant when it was possible to accept it and work with the state to make the project work for all involved.
Board member Chris Pierson asked if the town could accept the grant now but return it later if/when the costs of the town building a sidewalk itself were known.
A motion was made to reject the grant which garnered two yes and two no votes.
"You're asking me to break the tie," board chair Paul Hartshorn said, leading to more discussion among those present about whether or not the state would abide by its word to leave The Village Grocery sign in place.
"It depends on how much you trust the state," Parker said.
"I don't trust them at all. In any case, we're going to get a sidewalk from Valley Players up. I'm not voting for the sidewalk," Hartshorn said, casting his vote in favor of the motion to reject the sidewalk grant.