By Alex Bunten

Now that the smelly air has cleared from my pews (I live in a church, don’t you know…) and my massive nine-bucket sugaring operation has come to a bitter-sweet end, it’s probably time to check in with town business again.

I blacked out toward the end but seems Articles 6 and 7 were resoundingly defeated by a 70/30 margin. As many of you know, I wasn’t so jazzed on these plans. Why? Well, it was a variety of things (skip this if you remember):

Going from 5 acres to 1 for residential zoning seemed out of sync with Charlotte and to only apply this to E. Charlotte commercial district felt like spot-zoning to many.
We had a Planning Commission (PC) leaning very heavily on a 10-year-old series of workshops that they cherry-picked town sentiment on development from.
The PC said they have been working on this for years, but couldn’t explain what the potential build-out was in even a general sense and they didn’t seem to expect any opposition, positioning the change as de minimus.
There was an error in the calculation of the commercial district size that was also passed off as “no big deal” even after the proposed amendments were rubber stamped by a “it’s-not-our-job-to-critically-assess-a-Planning-Commission-proposal-that-will-be-put-to-the-voters-as-‘approved by the Selectboard’” Selectboard.
And yes, the real or perceived conflict of interest on the Selectboard was real to many.

I’m probably missing a few, but in sum, it was a bit of a stink show and I’m glad the town rallied to say, “no, thanks.”

Alas, it seems the PC wants to crack on and repackage similar changes for a vote next year despite the resounding no vote. The people have spoken, so let’s do it the same but different—bite-sized so these lizard-brained residents can compredé. Democracy in action.

Please, can we not right now…

Can we just emerge from the damn pandemic before we start talking about esoteric land use policy again? Just because housing stock is low in town doesn’t mean the PC has to scramble to welcome the new gold rush. Just because developers want changes to allow them “flexibility” doesn’t mean residents want a Shelburne 2.0.

We have functional land use regs, correct? They work just fine and that’s all I want until I can see my damn family without wearing a damn mask and my daughter can possibly meet another kid without having to be all weird about it.

I respect those dedicated to this town and its future, but if you want town engagement and cooperation on a year’s long project to redevelop the town’s villages or large-scale land use reg changes, my spidey sense tells me this isn’t a great time to find it.

If we want to start making the E. Village more villagey in the meantime, here’s a few places to start:

  • Lower the speed limit. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any Vermont village that calls itself a village with a 45 mph speed limit. Richmond – 30. Shelburne – 30. Vergennes – 25. Carrie Spear told me for years you can’t enforce anything lower, but don’t know I buy that. If anyone agrees and would like to help push this forward, please get in touch.
  • Fix up Spear’s Store. If that means new ownership and a deli, great. Maybe they could move those dang concrete blocks. What are they for, anyway? Looks like a war zone. Maybe they can tear down that creepy, Japanese Knot Weed infested building behind it while they’re at it.
  • Fix up the old Sheehan House. Or sell it. Tear it down if it’s as bad as it looks. Whatever Mr. Hinsdale thinks would be prudent for his prized historic property. He doesn’t live in Charlotte anymore—glad as hell he left, he’s said—so I won’t go to lengths to disclose his address, but if he’s the power broker he imagines himself to be, he could start by taking care of what he’s got in E. Charlotte before planning the rest.

So, let’s put a pin in the land use reg meddling until next spring, eh? If everyone’s family is all right and our kids have a taste of normal again, I think we’d all happily engage on a variety of issues that make our town special and what we need to do to keep it that way.

Until then, I’m reminded of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park thinking about planners “being so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”