Finding the balance

  • Published in Editorials

Ultimately, some of the most important decisions we make as a community revolve around land use.

As our local planning commissions and the Mad River Valley Planning District grapple with the difficult issues of workforce housing and affordable housing, we’re concurrently working on how to preserve our working landscape. Our agricultural heritage defines our working landscape with compact village development and open fields of crops and critters.

Our current land use ordinances are designed to protect the open vistas and long views of fields – which is important. But we have to balance our desire to protect our working landscape with a realistic look at the need for affordable housing.

Housing is the issue that hampers local employers the most. Small businesses as well as the larger ones have issues finding employees who can afford to live here. The problem is real.

Planners are working on a variety of options that may help make developing affordable housing easier. Those options include reducing minimum lot sizes in the village, but also in the agricultural/residential district where the zoning currently calls for 1-acre zoning.

So, rather than one house per acre, local planners are considering changes that would allow up to four houses per acre – if water and wastewater are available to support those dwellings. The term being used for such smaller lot size developments is hamlets.

Such hamlets would be situated in ways that preserve the working landscape and protect riparian corridors because both of those imperatives are as important as affordable housing. It’s a delicate but important balance that we have to strike to make our community economically vibrant, safe from flooding, agrarian based.

We want development to take place in hamlets and village centers where it can be accommodated. And where there is septic and water capacity for it. But we critically do not want to lose our prime agricultural lands (and our ability to feed ourselves) and the landscape that makes up our agricultural heritage and the backdrop of our Valley.

The decisions that we make around how we use the land in our towns are among the most imporant we make as a community. Finding the right balance is critical.