By Lisa Loomis
The Waitsfield Planning Commission continued its work on revising the Town Plan with a discussion of housing issues and population projects.
At its December 1 meeting, the commission, working with consultant Brandy Saxton of Place Sense, reviewed the current Town Plan's goals and policies regarding housing and population. Saxton presented a matrix of the goals, policies and tasks in the 2005 Town Plan to be used as a worksheet in the process of updating the plan. The table listed goals, policies and tasks from each chapter.
Planning commission chair Steve Shea offered his review of the population and housing chapters, noting that although the town does not have updated census data, the available data suggests that the town's population is growing at a slower rate than projected. He questioned how this slowdown should be reflected in the revision of the Town Plan in terms of housing.
Shea asked if the current housing goals were overly ambitious in light of a slower population growth. Saxton responded that population growth is not synonymous with growth in the number of households in a town. Commissioners decided to seek more current information on both population and household number growth.
Commissioners discussed how to properly determine what housing currently exists in the town and how to address the need for affordable housing. Shea voiced concerns about the current housing policy 32, which may be calling for limiting the number of permitted housing units to avoid exceeding the capacity of municipal facilities and infrastructure. After further discussion, planners agreed that the intent of that policy was reasonable but that the wording needed revision to get rid of the reference to a maximum number of units.
Shea told his fellow commissioners that the current Town Plan goal of having 50 percent of new housing growth take place in Irasville and Waitsfield Village was unrealistic. Saxton noted that this goal is a requirement for Waitsfield's designation as a growth center. That state designation (growth center) brings with it favorable state benefits such as increased eligibility for grant funding, loans and other municipal development assistance.
Saxton also said that the commission could consider weighing various parts of such ambitious goals differently, giving some more priority than others, assigning specific targets and leaving others more ambiguous. She said that maintaining seemingly unrealistic goals may make the town more eligible for future funding sources.
Shea responded, arguing that the bigger question might be whether the planning commission should be working to get more town support for the concept of Irasville/Waitsfield Village as a designated growth center.
The commission moved on to a discussion of how to support affordable housing and whether this goal is consistent with the opinions expressed in the Waitsfield Town Plan Survey, which went out to residents, business owners and others in October. Survey conclusions show that there is a desire for affordable housing to be available but little support for funding it through taxes or fees. Local Realtor Neil Johnson suggested affordable housing be addressed via smaller lot sizes and a more predictable review process.
At its January 5 meeting, the board will continue its review of the Town Plan with discussion of chapters relating to natural resources and historical and cultural resources.