By Lisa Loomis
Waitsfield is the antithesis of anti-business, if the stats are to be believed. The town's rate of job growth, employees, retail sales and retail space have grown as percentages higher than the rest of The Valley, higher than Washington County and higher than before in the past 18 years.
These figures were presented by Brian Shupe, a professional planner and chair of the town's development review board, at a summit for Waitsfield's governing boards this week.
The three-board summit was convened to address the issue of how the town is perceived as anti-business. It was held at the Joslin Round Barn on August 25, with members of the select board, the development review board and the planning commission participating. It was moderated by Warren resident Peter MacLaren.
After explaining the process whereby the town's zoning was continually evolving to meet new needs and changing circumstances, Shupe reported that in the past 10 years the town's two regulatory (permit giving) boards had received 122 requests for permit approval, and approved 108 of those applications, and denied 9. Of those 9, he said, the majority were subsequently resubmitted and approved, in several cases after the zoning had been changed to facilitate the proposed use.
Other data reported by Shupe shows that Waitsfield's retail sales receipts from 2001 to 2006 increased 54.9 percent while Warren's decreased 27.1 percent, Washington County's rose by 6.2 percent and Vermont's rose by 14.8 percent.
From 2000 to 2005, the number of private employees in Waitsfield increased 12 percent while the number in Washington County increased 2 percent and in Vermont increased approximately 3 percent.
From 2000 to 2005, the number of employers in Waitsfield increased 11.6 percent while Washington County employers increased 2.5 percent and Vermont employers increased 3.1 percent. From 1990 to 2005, employers in Waitsfield increased 23.4 percent (from 171 to 211). During that time period, the number of employers in Washington County rose 12.6 percent and in Vermont 14.1 percent.
The average wage in Waitsfield increased 18.4 percent from 2000 to 2005 (from $26,023 to $30,816), while the average wage in Vermont increased 17.2 percent during that time period (from $28,293 to $34,530). The average wage in Washington County increased 22 percent during that time period (from $23,573 to $33,648).
Moderator MacLaren solicited comments and concerns from members of the three boards and also solicited comments and concerns from the audience. After a break, he identified six areas he felted should be addressed.
The first was how the town deals with permit applications, the process and how the applicants were supported or guided through the process. The second area of concern was interboard communication and interaction. The third was the issue of how the public perceives the boards or PR. The fourth was infrastructure issues for residents and visitors, including fundamentals like public restrooms, public water and sewer, etc. The fifth issue MacLaren identified is the need for additional professional help for town boards and staff when dealing with zoning and permitting, and the last topic was making sure town staff is supported in their work to avoid high employee turnover.
The meeting was filmed by MRVTV and can be viewed on Channel 45.