Even though the Charlotte Candidates Night was not held in person and there are no contested races in the town’s upcoming elections, about 30 people tuned in for the online discussion of election issues and visions of the future.
Mike Walker, president of the Grange, which was hosting the event on Wednesday, Feb. 16, said it was important that the town is continuing this tradition.
“It’s an important opportunity for people to meet candidates and talk about town issues,” Walker said.
And, he said, it was very fitting that the Grange organized this event since its 151-year-old building on Spear Street, and its home for the last 60 years, was originally a Lyceum (or debating hall) to promote town discussions.
As the moderator of this discussion, Jonathan Silverman, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees, kicked things off by having candidates offer a short personal statement of their reasons for running.
Richard Mintzner, who is running for a three-year term as auditor, said he has endured many audits in his 35-year career in real estate finance, so the position seems good for him.
Louise McCarren said in her three years on the Selectboard she found the board to be a good team, “We’re all very different and we don’t agree, which I treasure because disagreeing is very important.”
The big issues in town are water and wastewater, she said, and the town needs to get more dense development in Charlotte’s east and west villages.
She has found: “Holy Toledo, this town runs on volunteers.”
Selectboard Chair Jim Faulkner said the most important thing the town is working on at the moment is the town garage. Since the garage where road commissioner Junior Lewis kept his road clearing equipment burned, Lewis is having to work outside when he works on his trucks.
Another town priority, Faulkner said, is improving communication between town boards.
“It may seem corny, but we’re a big family here, so we’ve got to make sure that we’re civil and help each other out,” Faulkner said.
Mintzner also believes that building a town garage is a high priority, but he also believes the town needs a strong plan for development. Charlotte needs “to move away from the wonderful euphemism of ‘Char-not,’” he said.
McCarren agreed with Mintner’s call for a coherent plan for development in Charlotte and said that any town’s development begins with water and wastewater.
Although the restrictions for how American Rescue Plan Act funds can be spent are strict, approved uses are wastewater and drinkable water, Faulkner said.
To a submitted question from the online audience about what Charlotte could do to increase affordable housing, McCarren responded that developing water and wastewater and increasing density in the two village areas would help.
Although articles meant to allow more dense development in East Charlotte were defeated at Town Meeting Day voting in 2021, being able to do some clustering would help increase affordable housing, Faulkner said.
In large part, he thinks the articles were defeated because of poor communication.
Faulkner said that when affordable housing is mentioned, “in that same sentence should be senior housing, because it’s a shame to lose these long-time residents because the taxes are too much for them.”
Former Planning Commission Chair Peter Joslin said he was “totally heartened” that the discussion was about development. When he talks about affordable housing, Joslin said he doesn’t mean subsidized housing.
Besides using American Rescue Act Plan funds for water and wastewater, Joslin said, the money could be used to build sidewalks in the east and west villages.
Charlotte needs water and wastewater systems if it’s going to increase affordable housing, Joslin said, as other nearby towns have done.
Selectboard member Frank Tenney said that, although he agreed that smaller lot requirements and clustered housing are needed, he had opposed the articles voters rejected last year because they encouraged housing in the commercial district where he would like to see an increase in businesses.
“I would hate to see any kind of regulation come in that would make it more feasible for somebody to create housing in our commercial areas than actual businesses,” Tenney said.
In closing, Silverman told the candidates, “More than anything we so appreciate your taking on civic service to our community and truly making it a better place for us.”