After one well-attended public hearing and another meeting with the Waitsfield Select Board, the Mad River Valley–Funding Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO) committee asked Waitsfield town administrator Trevor Lashua to look at an alternative model to the current proposal.
The MRV-FLO proposal is being presented by a subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District and calls for adopting a planning district charter that includes a 1 percent local option tax (LOT) on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol. That tax would raise approximately $1 million, of which $700,000 would return to the community to fund things like affordable housing, recreation, infrastructure, destination marketing and transportation.
After an extensive discussion with the Waitsfield Select Board on December 17, MRV-FLO committee member and Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell asked Waitsfield Select Board chair Paul Hartshorn if Lashua could prepare information on an alternative model for adopting an LOT, one that relied on a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the three towns in the planning district (Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston). Lashua will draft an outline of how an MOU process could work, as well as a timeline.
NO SET DATE
Prior to that decision, MRV-FLO committee members briefed the Waitsfield board on a December 13 public hearing which was attended by some 60 people. Cadwell said a second public hearing will take place in Fayston in January and a third in Warren in March.
Cadwell also clarified that the committee does not have a set date on when to take the proposal to voters.
“We know this will take time to vet. We need the public’s input. This is our Valley after all and we need all interest groups engaged,” he said.
“People don’t seem to realize that this is a government within a government and it’s going to take a lot of powers away from the local government,” said Paul Hartshorn, Waitsfield Select Board chair.
Cadwell acknowledged his remark and pointed out that the proposal builds on what the three towns created when the Mad River Valley Planning District was created.
ECONOMY IS INTERDEPENDENT
“That was the recognition that our three towns had much more in common than not and that our economy is interdependent and our revenue sources are interdependent,” Cadwell said.
“We wouldn’t have offered this proposal if we didn’t have a lot of confidence in the strength of our three town governments,” Cadwell added.
Waitsfield Select Board and MRV-FLO committee member Darryl Forrest pointed out that adoption of an LOT was a fairly commonplace occurrence in Vermont where 23 towns have adopted one.
Lashua pointed out that this proposal was significantly different because it involves three towns and funnels the funds through a planning district.
Warren Select Board and MRV-FLO committee member Bob Ackland said that the committee had deliberately decided to funnel the funds into four areas rather that one particular project and said that was done to avoid what had happened in other towns that adopted LOTs when new select boards did not adhere to the original funding goals for the LOT and siphoned those funds off into the general fund.
Waitsfield Select Board member Kari Dolan asked if the FLO committee had considered an MOU model and Cadwell said, “I want to hear how you get from A to Z without complications.”
INVESTING IN COMMUNITY
Lashua detailed the steps to drafting an MOU and Ackland asked, “Aren’t we talking about the same thing? Investing in the community?”
Ackland explained that the committee had looked at the MOU model and said he thought it might work if the money would still go to the same target areas and that individual select boards couldn’t meddle with that formula.
“We do have municipal needs to be met that are beyond anything envisioned in the buckets,” Lashua said.
“The difference is that this money is for things other than repaving Joslin Hill Road. You’d have access to money that could take pressure off your other projects, projects like your municipal water system or Scrag Mountain or other town projects that really enhance the entire community,” Ackland replied.
The issue of affordable house came up several times during this week’s meeting and it was a strong focal point at the December 13 meeting. At that meeting there was extensive discussion of what types of housing (workforce, moderate income, affordable housing) were needed. Several employers pointed out that the lack of housing makes it hard to attract employees.
Ackland told the group that the committee had met with Downstreet, the company that owns Evergreen Place, Verd Mont and Mad River Meadows, about the possibility of creating housing on 4 acres near Mad River Meadows.
Todd Sheinfeld asked how many people could throw a snowball and hit Downstreet or HUD housing.
“They’re not exactly the best partner for your neighbors and no one from the town ever chatted with the neighbors about them,” Sheinfeld said.
“What, you’re saying you don’t want Downstreet because they provide affordable housing to people you don’t want to come here?” Ackand asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Sheinfeld said.
“You’re implying that,” Ackland answered, and Carolyn Heft, who lives in the Mad River Green apartments, said she can hit Evergreen Place with a snowball and that they are good neighbors.
STICK BUILT HOUSING
Ward Smyth of Turtle Creek Builders said that creating stick built housing that meets the definition of affordable will be almost impossible. He also said that the community needs to look at creating rental housing that younger workers and young families can afford.
There was also discussion on whether the 1 percent sales tax would drive people to shop elsewhere.
Tom Mehuron, owner of Mehuron’s Supermarket, said that 29.8 percent of what he sells as retail is taxable. He challenged the assertion that 88 percent of the LOT funds would come from Valley visitors versus residents.
“That 88 percent of the LOT that is paid for by tourists is not going to be 88 percent at my shop or Bisbee’s or Barry Bender’s or Kenyon’s,” he said.
“We looked at over 10 years of receipts for towns that have an LOT and didn’t find any declining years in the receipts. We were looking for a trend that said if we put in an LOT, we’ll see diminished receipts,” Ackland said.
CHANGE THE ZONING
Mike Sharkey asked about Killington adopting an LOT and then repealing the portion that was on retail sales. Cadwell explained that the town was thinking of bringing it back and noted that the retail sales LOT was repealed after Killington Resort offered to contribute an equal amount to the town.
Mehuron asked why the first step was getting tax money and throwing it at a problem rather than change the zoning that had made development so expensive in The Valley.
Jordan Gonda, vice chair of the Waitsfield Planning Commission, voiced support for the proposal and said that the commission was looking at proposed zoning changes that would remove obstacles to affordable housing (one of which is land costs) by reducing minimum lot size.
“One of the things that comes up at each meeting is who is going to have the money to see one of these projects through. This is a mechanism to allow projects to be developed,” Gonda said.
“Warren has quarter-acre zoning in the village and accessory dwellings,” Ackland said, and Cadwell said that Fayston was changing its accessory dwelling regulations to increase the allowable size. Fayston planning commissioner and FLO committee member Don Simonini said the planning commission may ask the select board to incentivize accessory dwellings by offering a five-year property tax stabilization for the added value of the accessory dwelling.
Bruce Hyde, the younger, said that if there were a concrete plan to create 100 housing units in eight years or something more tangible, then he’d get behind it.
“I don’t think we’re at a point where it’s fleshed out enough to make a decision,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot to learn. Who are we to decide we’re going to build 100 housing units and on whose land? That’s not our call. We need zoning and infrastructure for that,” Ackland said.
“I’ve followed the progress of this proposal since its inception eight to 10 years ago. Waitsfield had the chance to put a big pipe septic system in at the Munn field which would have provided wastewater for Irasville and the village. That got defeated and that defeat was based pretty much on attitude of ‘Who needs growth?’ and ‘Who needs a septic system that we’re going to have to pay a fee for?’” recalled Charlie Hosford.
“So we went forward with only a municipal water system. Lawson’s wouldn’t be here without water and the decentralized wastewater system. There’d be seriously no growth. The vision for this Valley migrates. When the big pipe proposal got defeated, the attitude was no growth and we don’t want to build out the commercial district. The select boards are not stepping forward to build infrastructure. Housing isn’t going anywhere unless there’s some money where a public, private partnership can thrive,” he added.