Opinion – This is our time because of American Rescue Plan Act funds

Timing is everything. Is this our time?

Charlotte is the recipient of over $1 million of American Rescue Act Plan funds.

The selectboard is in the midst of reviewing whether or not to build a town garage, and if so, where.

A committee has been working on the feasibility of a community center.

The Grange is hampered by water and septic issues.

Most recent development, regardless of district, has been controversial.

How often have you seen someone looking to rent or purchase a home or rent an apartment on social media? As of this writing, there is one house listed on Zillow for $775,000 and one 84-acre lot for $1,150,000. Recent posts for rentals are at least $2,300 per month.

Enrollment at Charlotte Central School has been below average for the last eight years. What does this portend for the future?

I applaud the efforts of those who have worked on the community center proposal, but I believe it is an idea ahead of its time. We should first focus on strategies for modest growth in the village districts, enabling young families of moderate income to take advantage of our K–12 school system.

Charlotte is well poised to focus on the future. The planning commission, now unencumbered from development review, has begun to assume its primary responsibility, as stated in the Vermont Institute for Government: “Planning is the process of designing a community’s future.”

I assume, in general, Charlotters remain committed to the Town Plan. Therefore, changes are necessary to fulfill the stated goal to promote growth in the village districts and develop strategies for more targeted development in the rural districts to protect the areas of high public value we so cherish. If Charlotters do not agree with this, the Town Plan should be amended to reflect past and current reality—that growth has and continues to be in the rural district.

Here’s what Hinesburg’s land-use regulations say about their Village Growth Area: “To encourage a vibrant mix of commercial, residential and civic activities in a compact, pedestrian-oriented village that is recognizable as the town’s social and economic center. To allow for development that brings value to the community and maintains Hinesburg’s unique sense of place. Densities will be high relative to the rest of the town, and multi-story buildings are anticipated. The design of this area shall include public spaces to serve as focal points and gathering spaces, and to take advantage of important views. It should include internal streets that make pedestrians feel comfortable and welcome. A mix of uses within the Village NW, Village NE, Village, and Commercial districts is particularly important to provide a reason for the wider Hinesburg community to visit and spend time in this area (employment, walking, services, recreation, events, etc.)”

We are not Hinesburg, nor should we strive to be, but many of these goals are comparable to those in our current Town Plan.

We need plenty of dialogue to find middle ground to plan for the next 10 years. More voices, more ideas, more commitment to assist the planning commission and selectboard to create working groups to foster goals and strategies for the future. The planning commission must lead this effort. During past planning commission and selectboard meetings, the idea of hiring an organization to assist in facilitating our collective future has been discussed. I believe this should be given serious consideration. Applying for grants and securing a financial commitment from the selectboard, similar to that extended for the town trail but far more modest, would provide the financial means to chart Charlotte’s future.

What should we be considering? Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Wastewater, water and stormwater are primary issues in both the east and west villages and are ideal uses for American Rescue Plan Act funds.
  2. Potential multi-use development of the Burns property. This might include small commercial business, modest senior housing, apartments or condominiums.
  3. Promote hamlets located close to identified water and wastewater resources.
  4. If the selectboard considers the purchase of land to build a town garage, it behooves us to consider other potential resources of a parcel such as wastewater or water that could support modest development in addition to a town garage.
  5. Changes to density requirements and boundary expansion in the village districts.
  6. Additional zoning districts for more targeted growth and increased protection of areas of high public value.

Charlotte currently has 10 zoning districts, which include one rural district, one east and west village district and one commercial district (east and west villages).

Compare this to Ferrisburgh, Hinesburg and Bolton. These towns, one larger and two smaller than Charlotte, have multiple rural districts and village/town center districts. Density requirements in their rural districts range from an acre to 5 acres and in village/town center districts half an acre to two acres.

What is important to note is the variety of districts these towns created, coupled with appropriate density requirements, to focus growth based on location. These are models Charlotte should consider to achieve the goals in the Town Plan.

Some people will be averse to change, and some may find these suggestions extreme, but we have a unique opportunity before us: the American Rescue Plan Act funds are once in a lifetime. I believe this to be our time.