Ferrisburghâ€™s on the right path; Midd should follow
Ferrisburgh town selectmen are thinking ahead. Earlier last month the board appointed a committee to study whether the town should buy a key parcel of land that abuts the town elementary school and the planned site of a new town office building and meeting center. The 34-acre parcel, town leaders believe, is so important to the future of the village that the opportunity to buy it â€” rather than allow a developer to build a handful of houses on it â€” should not be passed by.
Such a proposal is not inexpensive. The asking price for the farmland owned by the Hinsdale family of Charlotte has been $750,000, and the appraised price is around $650,000.
Benefits to the town include providing extra room for the school to expand; parking for school or town offices; safer access to the school; a new site for a larger post office; playing fields; a town green and other options. Importantly, town officials note, the area is the last large open parcel in the village with good septic soils.
â€œI donâ€™t like spending money more than anybody else,â€? said Selectman John DeVos, a member of the study committee, â€œbut this would be the one time I would be in favor of spending a large amount of money for the betterment of the town.â€?
While loan payments to cover the initial cost of the property would add about two cents to the property tax rate, an existing home on the property could be sold for close to $240,000, and the rest of the land could be sold with conditions acceptable to the town and its residents.
Town officials are to be applauded for their long-range vision. Such thinking was commonplace among the founding fathers of many communities throughout the county and state about two centuries ago as towns were competing as centers of commerce with inviting residential neighborhoods. During those years, the expectation was for communities to leverage their collective wealth (including that accumulated through taxation) for the future growth and betterment of the town â€” all to benefit the next generations, who would hopefully stay and raise their families.
Kudos, then, to the Ferrisburgh selectboard for having the vision to see beyond immediate concerns and the courage to suggest raising taxes in the short-term for what could be an important long-term investment for the village and town.
While most communities in the area could probably think of similar long-term programs to benefit their communities, Middlebury has a ready list to contemplate, partly because of significant road construction under way in its downtown and plans for more in the next few years. Frustration and traffic congestion are sure to be the outcome of that construction, but what a pity it would be if the town goes through all the headache without capitalizing on the opportunity to improve existing conditions.
On the list of things to improve on Merchants Row and Main Street are:
â€¢ Continued pressure for a second in-town bridge at Cross Street.
â€¢ Plans to establish a downtown visitor center and public restrooms, at the very list within the Chamber of Commerce office.
â€¢ Consider replacing the current concrete curbs with granite curbing and planting trees on the sidewalks and widening them where possible to make the downtown more pedestrian friendly.
â€¢ With the new construction and added business in the Marble Works, and with the slated repairs to the railroad underpass on Main Street, itâ€™s also the ideal time to create an improved entrance to the Marble Works at Printerâ€™s Alley.
â€¢ And, a bit off Main St. and Merchants Row, but still downtown, the former CVPS office building is again on the market and â€” as the last large piece of undeveloped land in the downtown â€” its uses could prove invaluable to the community at very little long-term cost to taxpayers.
The point, as Ferrisburgh selectmen have already concluded, is that opportunities to work for the public betterment are few and far between, and they need to be pursued when the opportunity arises.
To that end, an ad hoc town committee to study ways to improve the look and function of downtown sidewalks and traffic flow on Merchants Row and Main Street (including better access to the Marble Works) could be useful if formed immediately. Also, a committee to study creative uses for the former CVPS site might spark far-reaching and long-term benefits for the town, if pursued before that lot is sold.
To do nothing but expect the status quo after years of disruption and repair â€” without any creative thought applied to the process â€” will keep Middlebury lagging behind its more thoughtful and creative neighbors.
Angelo S. Lynn