By Lisa Loomis

The Waitsfield Select Board voted unanimously to accept a grant to build a sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 from the Valley Players Theater to Village Grocery – reversing a decision the board made last year.

The select board, on April 14, met with representatives from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and those interested in revisiting the grant. The select board rejected it last year with one member dissenting, because of concerns about whether or not the sign for Village Grocery would survive construction of the project.

The grant is for $369,500 and would require the town to pay 10 percent, or $36,950, for approximately 700 feet of sidewalk.

When the board rejected the grant last year, board members were very specific that they did not believe the assurances of VTrans officials that the Village Grocery (VG) sign would remain. It is in the right of way for Route 100.

The matter came up again at Town Meeting last month when Waitsfield Planning Commission chair Steve Shea took the select board to task for rejecting the grant and not taking the initiative to find a way to make it work. The issue came back before the select board this week at the request of local organizations interested in pedestrian paths and safety.

At this week's meeting, members of the select board questioned VTrans officials Sue Scribner and Rob White about what they felt were VTrans oversight problems that led to significant problems with the town's first sidewalk project – which runs on the east side of Route 100 from the school south into Irasville.

Scribner said that the issues with the first sidewalk were related to the fact that it took so long from inception to construction (almost 20 years). She said the ideal timeframe is four years from inception to construction.

Board members also asked about the VG sign.

"Signs are illegal in the state right of way. If there's a sign in the right of way, it's an illegal sign and it is illegal until it is moved. But I don't know of any case where we've come along and pulled one out," White said.

"But we want to work with property owners on these issues. We know it's not always exactly clear where property lines are. It's not uncommon for us to come down the road with a project and find all kinds of things in the right of way. Signs are the number one thing that can't be in there. So we're working with the VG to try and make an adjustment to the boundary so that not the existing sign but maybe a new sign in a new location will work," White said.

Troy Kingsbury, owner of VG, held up a letter from White and said they had been working on a solution.

"His thing is that he wants to get to yes and that is important and encouraging. There are options that Rob brought forth such as purchasing the right of way. He was able to work with me. Hopefully, I can purchase that 10-foot-by-40-foot piece of property and could build a solar canopy and hang a sign," Kingsbury said.

"We came to the conclusion that we could split the difference," White said.

"I have a son who is 12 and in 13 more years I can go fishing and he can run the store, so I'm looking to find a permanent solution," Kingsbury said.

Board member Scott Kingsbury made the motion to accept the grant. It was seconded by board member Chris Pierson. Board members Logan Cooke and Sal Spinosa and board chair Paul Hartshorn joined the others in voting to accept the grant. With the exception of Spinosa, who was not on the board last year, all other board members rejected the grant last year.

Those in the room applauded after the vote.