Four questions – many more answers

By Lisa Loomis

The public heeded the request for input into Waitsfield's downtown action plan at a lively and well-attended meeting this week.

Consultants with the Vermont Downtown Action Team (V-DAT) have been in Waitsfield and Warren this week working with the Mad River Valley Planning District, citizens, local officials, business owners and others on how to strengthen their identities and economic viability. The towns are among seven downtowns/villages affected by Tropical Storm Irene that are the focus of the state's action-oriented planning projects.

Consultant Tripp Muldrow introduced himself to those present at Waitsfield United Church of Christ on Tuesday evening, October 15, joking with his southern accent that he was "from Massachusetts."

He gave an overview of the type of work he and his colleagues do with villages and towns to help them create a stronger identity and improve their economies. Then he got down to the interactive part of the evening.

He asked those present to respond to four questions:

What phrase or image best captures Waitsfield?
What one thing would people change if they could?
What should the consultants definitely do or not do in creating their plan for Waitsfield?
What about your neighbors/the neighbor exercise?

Those present were not shy in speaking out. In response to the first question, the answers included artistic, unique, local, historic, authentic, underfunded, civically engaged, politically active, the Mad River, welcoming, easy to get around in, friendly, lots of events such as marathon, arts fest and farmers' market, natural setting, innovative, agricultural and "I came for the winter and stayed for the summer."

"It's intellectual; there's something to do almost every night whether it's theater or a Green Mountain Global Forum presentation or something at the Big Picture or an event like this," said one town resident.

What people would like to change about Waitsfield garnered plenty of responses as well, including changing the speed limit in the village, cleaning Route 100, the sidewalks and the parking lots more often, helping the owners of dilapidated buildings to improve them, gas street lights, benches and restrooms, more trees, better focus on the covered bridge, more ways to get skiers off the mountain and into the village, improved wastewater management and disposal, more sidewalks and crosswalks, improved street lighting for safety's sake and "black raspberry in Troy's creemee machine," referring to The Village Grocery's self-serve creemee machine.
The one thing that residents did or did not want the consultants to include in their plan for Waitsfield garnered these responses: don't give the town a tagline (like Vermont's recreation crossroads), do treat the covered bridge like the Statue of Liberty it is for Waitsfield, do recognize the Mad River for the 27 miles of madness it is as it flows north and do focus on the history of the village.

Muldrow explained that the fourth question involved turning a town into a person and giving that person attributes. He started by asking people to decide what kind of a person Stowe is. Those present shouted out descriptions such as well-heeled woman with a good background and Republican and high maintenance, successful, beautiful, active, popular, self-promoter, blue blood and "has a sugar daddy."

The next town he asked people to personify was Barre, which those present felt was best represented by a working class man who is strong and proud, good looking and agricultural, urban by Vermont standards, chiseled, industrious and industrial and "tried dating Stowe once, but it didn't work out."

Burlington, those present reported, is a queen (Vermont's Queen City), a hip college girl, cool, academic, lively, progressive and active.

When asked about Waitsfield, those present personified their town as old, active, a grandma who reads a lot and volunteers a lot and is very artistic as well as comforting and welcoming. This woman who is Waitsfield is a gardener and fun, traveled and alternative and may have a split personality. She dresses well but can dress down and has her own wilderness areas. She is "just fine the way she is, but not sure what she wants – a little dysfunctional," and is rooted in history. She's been napping for a while and may be some work (i.e., plastic surgery).

Tripp and his colleagues will compile their week's worth of work in The Valley and present their findings and their plans to people in Warren and Waitsfield on Friday, October 18. The Waitsfield presentation takes place at the church at 1:30 p.m.

In Warren the final presentation slated for October 18 at 11 a.m. at the Town Hall.



If Warren were a postcard, what would be on it?

By Rachel Goff

On Tuesday, October 15, Warren residents participated in a public input meeting conducted by the Vermont Downtown Action Team (V-DAT), which provides professional services in long-range strategic economic development planning and strategies for targeted flood resilience work.

Warren Village and Waitsfield Village were among seven downtowns or villages affected by Tropical Storm Irene that were selected to be the focus of V-DAT action-oriented planning projects, which will be conducted between the summer of 2013 and the winter of 2014.

“Our area of expertise is working with small communities,” V-DAT project coordinator Tripp Muldrow said at the start of last Tuesday’s meeting. “Tonight I’m really here to listen,” he said, explaining that the V-DAT consultants, who visited Warren in early June for a community assessment and meeting with the town’s advisory committee, now hoped to hear firsthand from residents what they like about their town and what they’d like to change about their town.

First, Muldrow asked residents, “If Warren were a postcard, what would that postcard be?” It could be a picture or a word, he said, that residents felt represented the community.

If it were a word, it would be “eclectic,” one resident said. Warren and its people are characterized by an interest in “design and innovation,” another resident said. “But they’re pragmatic,” another clarified. “They’re not froufrou.”

Warren does have a “dual personality,” however, another resident said, which comes from the fact that half of the town’s residents live there year-round and half are second-home owners. And that’s one thing year-round residents wish they could change about the town.

“I’d like to have neighbors,” one resident said, explaining that all of the houses surrounding hers are owned by second-home owners who are hardly ever there. “I live in an island of elsewhere,” she said, “in the middle of a village.”

On that same note, many residents also said they feel the village is “fragmented,” and they’d like for it to be more pedestrian-friendly. Trouble spots some pointed out include the mismatched parking at The Warren Store (pull-in parking along the road) and The Pitcher Inn (parallel parking along the road), and the lack of an established sidewalk across Freeman Brook.

“No one seems to get run over,” one resident said. “It’s pretty amazing actually.”

One resident proposed that if some work were done on the bridges at all four approaches to the village, they could serve to unify the area. “If all of those bridges were given any loving attention, they could be pretty scenic,” she said.

Warren Village could also use some sort of café or pub open longer hours, a few residents suggested, or at least a place that residents can “come down to at night and be around people,” one resident said.

Another resident said he would like to move Warren’s road department, whose location on School Road is “far from ideal,” due to safety concerns associated with its proximity to the elementary school, the lack of visibility for trucks pulling out onto Brook Road and its distance from the town’s road materials storage location on Route 100.

Other residents said the village needs more reliable cell service and expressed interest in it housing an electric car charging facility.

Another issue that residents raised was that of the town’s affordability, which has decreased due to its proximity to Sugarbush Resort. Already, many longtime residents have seen their children grow up and move away because they can’t afford to live in what is perceived to be a very wealthy area.

“How do you make a living in this town?” one resident asked, explaining that many who live in Warren have jobs that allow them to work from home, via the internet, and that the town is perhaps lacking in other employment opportunities.

Taking into account all of these comments, on Friday, October 18, V-DAT consultants will hold a final meeting presenting “basically a reflection of what we’ve heard,” Muldrow said, which can be used as the basis for future community and economic development projects. The meeting will take place at 11 a.m. at the Town Hall and members of the public are encouraged to attend.