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In Town Plan update, Moretown evaluates economic development

By Rachel Goff

What type of town does Moretown want to be? Does it want to be a business hub, like Berlin, or an agricultural community, like Calais?

Those were the type of questions asked of residents who attended a fiscal workshop on Thursday, March 18. The workshop was hosted by the Moretown Planning Commission to gather input as it works on updating the Town Plan, a comprehensive, long-range proposal for Moretown's future that states the town's vision and recommends strategies to achieve that vision.

In a survey that the planning commission put out to residents to gather input for the Town Plan updates earlier this year, when asked what they'd most like to change about Moretown, the top two responses were: 1. taxes and spending; and 2. economic development.

"I think we're definitely behind on economic development here," Moretown Select Board chair Tom Martin said. "For so long we've relied on the landfill," he explained, which contributed over $500,000 annually in tipping fees and taxes.

With the closure of Moretown Landfill last summer, the town should think about whether it wants to attract new businesses to contribute to the tax base, Sam Andersen of the Central Vermont Development Corporation (CVDC) said.

Currently, the land in Moretown zoned for commercial and industrial use lies mostly in the village and along Route 2. Because it also lies within the floodplain, "your commercial area has become a highly vulnerable area," Andersen told residents, as evidenced by damage done by Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011.

If Moretown wants to attract more businesses to the area, it may have to rethink some of its town policies, Andersen said, because "business goes like water—the path of least resistance." It does not, however, want to go away with the water should Moretown experience another flood.

Residents who attended the fiscal planning workshop expressed interest in building infrastructure or rethinking zoning to attract new businesses to town, provided those businesses were of the right type and size. Some ideas residents proposed included a solar farm and a hotel.

While it will not sacrifice its town policies for large, industrial companies, most residents agreed, Moretown needs to figure out a way to make itself more affordable. Currently, Moretown Elementary School faces a declining enrollment and increasing costs and the cycle continues because "it's very hard for new families to come in here who have school-age children," one resident said.

All across Vermont, a lot of communities "are doing the same thing you're doing," Andersen told those who attended the workshop. "They're re-evaluating their approach [to economic development]." In the end, Moretown could decide it doesn't want to attract new businesses to the area, but it helps to make a decision.

In the meantime, the planning commission will continue to work on the Town Plan and will present an updated draft in April. For more information, visit placesense.com/Moretown.

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