Planning Commission Minutes, 07.26.2023

Planning Commission DRAFT Minutes
Wednesday, July 26, 6:30pm, 236 School Rd, Guilford VT

Planning Commission members attending: Charlie Light, Jeannette Tokarz, Jethro Eaton, Nathaniel Matthiesen, Marty Ramsburg, Zon Eastes (Selectboard liaison), via Zoom: Julie Holland, Christina Belogour

Call to Order. The meeting was called to order at 6:31 p.m.

Recognition of the Public, Emily Lewis from Dubois & King, Sarah Noble,  Lynn King, 

Rules and Procedures: No changes. Follow Robert’s Rules and basic respect and civility

Changes to Agenda:  None 

Marty moved to accept the minutes from 6/28/23. Jethro seconded and motion was carried unanimously.

New Business: Elections were held. Jeannette nominated Christina for Vice Chair, Marty seconded and the motion carried unanimously.

During the Business Breakfast, which everybody thought was very successful, Jeannette was approached by Madeline Arms, the Chairperson of the Vernon Planning Commission, who wanted to discuss the possibility of sharing resources and perhaps working together. The board thought that this was a very interesting idea to pursue and Jeannette will try to coordinate dates and times for a meeting to happen.

We are now making a practice of making zoom recordings of our meetings. Zon will figure out the technical angle to making that audio and visual resource available on the planning section of the town website

Members discussed the feasibility of creating an email address for the planning commission where members of the public and officials can ask questions and they can be replied to both individually and as a public record on the website. It would provide an orderly, coherent and transparent effort to factually answer questions and misinformation that has appeared on social media and other outlets.

The case in point of this discussion is the confusion about the status of the possible development by Guilford Preservation, Inc. (GPI) of affordable housing in Algiers. The short answer is that GPI is only in the preliminary stages. Here is a link to a published article in “The Commons” that explains the status. I have also added the text of that article, which will be published in the Guilford Gazette, to these minutes.

We then discussed how the only real way (other than through ACT 250) that the Planning Commission and the town would have meaningful input into any eventual decision regarding this or any other development or land use issue would be to have zoning statutes in place. That is an obviously controversial issue for a much broader and town based discussion, which the Planning Commission encourages.

Emily from D&K recapped the business breakfast that connected a lot of people, encouraged the exchange of ideas and will hopefully result in further partnerships and projects. She also asked for other issues that should be up for discussion at our next public meeting on the Strategic Plan. Possible topics brought up included: the transportation, food security, care and other issues related to an aging population; security and care for our neighbors in the face of rising crime and natural and climate change related disasters; developing Sweet Pond as more of a recreation area.

We also discussed how to best reach out to people who do not use the internet. The Guilford Gazette is a free, print publication that is mailed to every Guilford household, but only on a quarterly basis. Other ways to reach out would be at town wide events like the Fair, community suppers at the BBCC and elsewhere, etc.

The board talked about encouraging civic engagement to combat the problem of too few (and the same) people volunteering for public and committee town work and the burnout and succession problems that creates. There was talk of a town wide meeting for board and commission chairs and other people in town government to explain what they do, take questions and encourage participation in the process. Child care should be provided at any public meetings.

We spoke of zoning again and the debate between “I can do what I want on my own land” and the town and its citizens having meaningful input on development that will change the quality of life that we all cherish. The next public meeting to be thought of as a visioning workshop where the town can sharpen the process of prioritizing goals, while also trying to include diverse voices from the community. Multigenerational thinking was encouraged.

Jethro moved to adjourn, Marty seconded and the motion carried.

Meeting was adjourned at 7:45PM.

The next scheduled meeting is August 23, 2023 at the Town Offices.

Preserving the best of Guilford while planning for the future

After 20 years, nonprofits eye much-needed affordable housing at the edge of Algiers village 
By Jean Eastman 

Wednesday, July 19, 2023 — Issue 723 

GUILFORD — As one drives south on Canal Street, rounds the corner, and enters Guilford, perhaps it’s easy to take for granted the change from the commercial development in Brattleboro to the pastoral scene in Algiers Village, but if it weren’t for the extraordinary efforts of a group of our residents more than 20 years ago, it could be a very different scene.

In 2002, when the 24-acre piece of land at the entrance of Guilford on Route 5 – the gateway to our town – went up for sale and was in danger of being commercially developed, a group of concerned citizens formed Guilford Preservation Inc. With the Vermont Land Trust as an active partner, GPI raised $182,500 to purchase the parcel.

GPI immediately conveyed a conservation easement to the Vermont Land Trust on the parcel, thus ensuring its conservation in perpetuity, with a 5.5-acre exception for future development of affordable housing (later reduced to 3.5 acres to prevent intrusion into wetlands).

The 8-acre meadow along the highway will forever be maintained as pasture and agriculture.

Recreational use includes the vast snowmobile trail that crosses the property. In an exciting development this spring, 2 acres have been leased to a local resident for growing organic cut flowers. The parcel also offers the possibility for community gardens as well as other agricultural and recreational uses to benefit Guilford residents.

* * *

In the meantime, after a long wait, GPI is fulfilling the other promise to those individuals and grantors who made the purchase possible – the development of new homes to be built up on the knoll, well beyond the meadow, and accessed from Partridge Road.

To fulfill that promise, GPI has partnered with Windham-Windsor Housing Trust, which for 35 years has developed high-quality homes for Vermonters with modest incomes.

WWHT, which paid half the expense of bringing the Brattleboro water line into Algiers when that housing was built, has shown itself to be a great partner in providing and maintaining the other homes they’ve developed in Algiers – projects that revitalized that area and have proven a significant asset for our town.

These existing buildings are fully occupied with waiting lists. This new development, located in the village center of Algiers, can help provide critically needed housing in Guilford, reducing scattered housing throughout our farmlands which changes the rural landscape that so many Guilford residents treasure.

Existing water and sewer lines can accommodate the project, and its proximity to the Guilford Country Store and bus lines make its location ideal.

We also recognize that there are current residents who would like to downsize but who want to remain in town, and the availability of these new apartments may provide that opportunity. That will make more houses available for families who desperately need them.

When completed, the housing development will pay significant annual property taxes to the town. Funding will include a mix of private equity, state, and federal funds and rebates that incentivize energy efficiency in the building’s operations.

* * *

At this early stage, there are no designs, no specific number of new homes determined, no specific income targeting, no clear understanding of the impacts.

All of these questions – and many more – get worked out during the development process, which hasn’t begun and will be done with engagement with the community. This process will take at least a year, maybe several, before construction can begin.

GPI is currently working on creating a website to provide the latest information as it becomes available.