Waitsfield residents Chach Curtis, Jordan Gonda and Jennifer Stella are running for the Waitsfield Select Board.
Curtis is seeking reelection to a two-year term on the select board, Gonda is seeking reelection to a three-year term on the board and Stella is challenging Gonda for the three-year seat.
The Valley Reporter invited the candidates to answer questions over the next two weeks. Here is the first installment. Stella was invited via email and also texted to make sure she had the invitation. Voters will elect two select board members at Town Meeting on March 1.
VR: Why are you the right fit for the Waitsfield Select Board at this time?
Curtis: With ARPA money already in the bank and more on the way, Waitsfield has a generational opportunity to invest in our future and ensure the long-term vibrancy of our community. My financial management, planning and budgeting skills can help the town prioritize our needs and spend the money wisely. I developed these skills over 30 years in senior leadership at local companies like Northern Power and SunCommon (CFO for past seven years). I have worked well with other board members since my appointment to an open seat last October and hope to continue to serve the community as an elected member.
Gonda: I have a valuable perspective and skill set to contribute when it comes to decisions regarding Waitsfield’s future. As a younger resident growing a family here, I want to help ensure that a life in Waitsfield is accessible for the type of people we want to be here. I have a demonstrated commitment to public service and understand the importance of community engagement on important issues facing the town. Over the past year, I have established a respectful and constructive working relationship with my fellow board members, which is essential to the effectiveness of any team.
Stella: I am 100% against mandates and am running for select board out of love and hope for the future, for our children and for the people of The Valley and Vermont. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on the need for us to work together to protect our health, our civil liberties and our bodily autonomy. I will work hard for you, to represent your rights. In running for this seat, I offer my informed view and my leadership experience in business, budgeting, planning, listening and communicating concerns.
VR: Do you feel Waitsfield should be working actively with Warren and Fayston and the MRV Housing Coalition on housing issues -- beyond the work of the town planning commission on zoning/wastewater and water capacity? What would actively working look like?
Curtis: Waitsfield is the commercial hub of the Mad River Valley, yet many of our local businesses cannot hire and retain the employees they need to maintain our service-based economy. One primary reason for the staffing crunch is an acute shortage of affordable housing for sale or rent. We have a responsibility to collaborate with our neighbors, Fayston and Warren, to address this critical issue, because it affects the viability of our communities, our schools and our businesses.
The Planning District’s 2020 Housing Study estimates that The Valley needs over 300 affordable housing units. To meet this need, we three towns must:
- Update our zoning to encourage cluster development, mixed use development and adaptive reuse of existing structures;
- Leverage ARPA funds and other grants to build additional decentralized water/wastewater systems that align with our town plans promoting smart growth;
- Work with the Mad River Planning District, Housing Coalition and others to develop housing trusts and other funding sources;
- Identify sites for new development, and existing sites for redevelopment;
- Get public input via forums, ballot initiatives, etc.
Gonda: Yes, the towns share many resources and should continue to coordinate on solutions to The Valley’s housing problems. The Housing Coalition has worked over the past several years to define the scope of the housing problem in the area and is poised to assist the towns in these efforts. I would like to see the coalition play a more central role in organizing and facilitating discussions among the towns about potential solutions and resources that could be instituted to benefit The Valley. A critical component of this work will be to engage on any proposed regulatory or financial mechanisms with sufficient time so that town residents can understand and provide input on any proposal. This could be done by including a housing component to a tri-town or other special/recurring meeting of the towns and by holding public engagement forums.
Recognizing the time and efforts needed to coordinate a tri-town approach to The Valley’s housing challenge, Waitsfield should also continue its own efforts to improve the housing situation in our town.
Stella: The town should remain engaged in seeking solutions that help support a balanced budget now and into the future. The affordability problem has only been significantly compounded by COVID-19. Recovery is going to require that we all take a long look at the realities of our fiscal future so we can then come up with realistic and creative solutions. We should always work with our neighboring towns. Housing, food, fuel, building supplies -- all of these costs are skyrocketing and taxes continue to rise.
We need razor sharp focus on fiduciary duties to the taxpayers of the town and better transparency, accountability. All solutions should be grounded in the protection of our constitutional rights and individual human freedoms. We are all incredibly fortunate to continue to live and thrive here. If I am elected it will be my honor to serve you, the people of Vermont and to try to contain costs, heal divisions and ensure a sustainable future.