At a well-attended public hearing this week, dozens of Waitsfield residents proffered opinions on whether Waitsfield’s town offices should be in Irasville or Waitsfield Village, and at those two locations, which of six sites might be best.
The town of Waitsfield has a task force working on where new town offices should be built. The task force held a public hearing on April 30, soliciting public input as well as completion of a survey about where town offices should be located.
According to the survey, those present at the meeting favored locating new town offices in Waitsfield Village over Irasville. Three sites are considered options in Waitsfield: the field that includes the Flemer barns; Flemer land along Route 100 where a farm stand exists on the west side of Route 100; and a site at the Wait House that would be carved out in front of the Waitsfield Fire Station and the Wait House.
The three potential Irasville sites include land to the immediate south of Shaw’s, between the Mad River Green Road extension and the grocery store; the field north of TD Bank where the Lion’s Club has its memory tree; and a third parcel of land slightly south of and in front of the Skatium with frontage along the Slow Road.
The survey asked those present to choose between Irasville and Waitsfield Village and choose first and second choices of the sites presented. Survey results had 35.6 percent choosing the Flemer farm stand land as first or second choice and 30.43 percent choosing the Wait House as their first or second choice. The Flemer barn land garnered 19.13 percent of the first and second choice votes.
In Irasville, the three sites were ranked 6.09 percent of first and second choice for the field north of TD Bank, 5.22 percent for the lot to the south of Shaw’s and 3.48 percent for the site on the Slow Road.
There was no argument from those present about the need for new town offices but a very lively discussion about where those offices should be. Architect Bill Maclay ran through the six sites, identifying issues with some of them (two Irasville sites have wetland issues that are not insurmountable); all three Irasville sites and two of the village sites would need to be purchased.
Purchase prices were not disclosed as they are not known. The town office task force provided those present with estimations of total project development costs on the six sites. Because the town could be considered to be in negotiations with those landowners, those prices – even though not known – were not revealed.
For the village sites, a town right of way exists between the Valley Players Theater and the Flemer barn site. That site would allow the town to provide off-street parking to the Valley Players. That group has little on-site parking and utilizes mostly on-street parking.
The farm stand site is about an acre and could accommodate the 5,000-square-foot building that the town is contemplating. Both the Flemer sites have adequate on-site septic capacity. The Wait House/fire station site would require a complete overhaul of the Wait House and fire station septic systems, including septic for the new town offices.
Maclay told those present that all parcels that had to be purchased would result in roughly the same building and development costs, except the Flemer barn site because it was larger. At that site, he said, the cost of the land could be recouped by the cost of other development on the parcel, including the potential re-adaptive use of the larger barn as apartments or condos. Even though the town owns the Wait House/fire station land, he said, the added costs of the total septic redo would make it cost only $5,000 less than the farm stand site, for example.
In response to questioning, Brian Shupe, who serves on the task force, explained that the criteria the committee used in selecting and assessing the sites included building for the future, building in a growth center and building with respect to existing development.
“Irasville is maybe the future village center. It has more development capacity. Maybe town investment in Irasville will help us leverage other things for that area,” Shupe said.
Eleanore D’Aponte, Waitsfield, asked what defined civic pride and what ingredients are in civic pride.
“For me, civic pride is a building that does something for me. I prefer sites that are up against the road,” he said.
Fred Messer quotes the late Fletcher Joslin in voicing his opposition to building at the Wait House, noting that to do so would block the view from the road to Wait House cemetery and from the cemetery out.
“If you put a two-story abomination on that site, you’re blocking General Wait’s cemetery,” he said.
Village resident Kirsten Siebert said she favored a village solution that included a building on Route 100 to respect the fact that Waitsfield is a linear village.
“The speed of traffic coming in from the north is a huge issue. It degrades our village. I see the Wait House site as a possibility, along with re-aligning the Loop Road intersection. The development of the health center created a substantial public building. The Old High School condos have a public feeling. I’d love to see a scheme that really grasps Route 100 as part of our village, taking it back from the state of Vermont,” Siebert said.
Town resident and former elementary school principal Carol Hosford spoke in favor of the farm stand site, noting that to put another building at the Wait would look very crammed.
“If you put it next to the fire station, I don’t think the fire station will be compatible with what you build and I think visually the fire station will detract from what you’re going to build,” she said.
Committee members were asked about the possibility of building the town offices on the Flemer field and were told that there are deed restrictions on it that will keep it a field in perpetuity.
A member of the audience asked whether that town field should give preference to the two Flemer parcels because of the possibility of creating one large piece of important town property. Shupe responded, noting that it is an amenity of both Flemer parcels that they offer room for parking and outdoor recreation, either formally or informally.
Waitsfield village resident Sandy Lawton said he favored building in Irasville for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the commercial development is already there and for the town to invest in Irasville would provide the opportunity to achieve some long-terms goals of turning that area into a village as well, with sidewalks and pedestrian access.
“There’s already a sea of parking there that is seldom full. We would not have to create more impervious surfaces, adding more stormwater to our drainage issues. Either site in Irasville is convenient to the places that people go day to day to do their business. I think that lends itself to considering those sites,” Lawton said.
Ted Joslin said he favored the Wait House site and favored moving the fire station to one of the Flemer parcels – if money were no object.
“I think moving the offices to Irasville would be a big mistake and suck the lifeblood out of a historic village,” offered resident Artie Bennett.
Russ Bennett (no relation to Artie Bennett) said that if traffic calming is the goal to slow down traffic coming into the village, then trees should be planted along Route 100 on the edges of the fields to the north of the village to get people ready to slow down before they get to the school.
“Wherever you put the building in the village isn’t going to affect that. I agree with Fletcher that it is important that the cemetery be considered. It would be another mistake to repeat the reason that the firehouse was put on that site, namely, that the town owned the land,” Bennett said.
“The Wait House doesn’t solve the problem of inadequate parking. We’d be sacrificing green space to solve the medical center parking problem and the new parking problem of the town offices. Our mission of doing something we will be proud of is important. And we have to look at our history. The drug store, Mehuron’s and post office were in Waitsfield Village but they don’t fit there anymore because of the amount of commerce going on. The greenest thing that we could do, from Irasville to this end of town, is to do a really good job of building something handsome and green in Irasville where the commerce has already gone. The difference in the costs between all these sites is minimal. We’re talking about a $2 million project. The cost differences amount to a rounding up error,” he continued.
Architect Ellen Strauss said that people were more likely to walk from point A to point B in the village rather than Irasville where she said she has seen people drive from Mehuron’s to Sweet Pea.
“Ellen brings up a valid point. Irasville was built as an autocentric development and it needs sidewalks and a way to get around and, clearly, too much parking was built there. When there is not enough parking, you park and walk. That is how it is in most cities,” Russ Bennett said.
“That’s what needs to change. We need a place for people to walk,” said Sandy Lawton.
“I’d encourage people to look at Bristol over the mountain. That’s a village where the commercial has been put together with the civic. They have the same long linear village that we do. I understand the sentiment towards putting the town offices in the historic village. And if this town won’t become the most fabulous place, without Irasville also become a place to walk and engage in beyond the car. Waitsfield and Irasville are just too close. They are the same village. At some point, there has got to be some investment in Irasville. This is a good opportunity to do it. We’re not moving the school or the Wait House or the library. We could add more civic things in the building. We’d be putting something that is more appropriate to the commercial district in that district,” Lawton continued.
Ted Joslin said he felt the village was a more appropriate location for the town offices than Irasville.
“In other communities, the older section of town hosts the town clerk and civic buildings, while newer sections are the commercial centers,” Joslin said.
Architect Bob Burley said he felt that the committee was really asking for those present (and the town) to choose between the village and Irasville.
“Waitsfield functioned as a civic center for us for a long period of time and does a good job. The commercial centers do a good job for commercial enterprises. Kirsten explained what we could do with Route 100 in Waitsfield. We have a valuable historic district and we’re fortunate to have it. I think we could use the town office project to enhance our historic district,” Burley said.