Archive - Mar 12, 2008
In Bristol this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 p.m., the Zoning Board of Adjustment will meet to continue discussions regarding the proposed Lathrop gravel pit. It’s a complicated project with an Act 250 filing as thick as a big-city phone book, but the central question that needs public input and board leadership is relatively straight-forward: Is the proposed location of the pit the appropriate place for a large-scale mining operation, and should the public have a chance to clarify wording in the town plan that has created much of the ambiguity pertaining to this project?
The ambiguous wording is the phrase “in any district” found in section 526 of the town plan. The dueling interpretations of the phrase contend that the phrase would allow gravel mining ‘in any district’ in the town (supposedly including the village or any other residential setting) or, opponents of the pit argue, that the phrase meant that mining was allowed ‘in any district’ (industrial, etc.) where mining was allowed.
Logic would suggest that full-scale mining operations — with rock-crushers and the consequential noise and dust that would come from such an operation — would not be suitable for residential zones or mixed rural residential, commercial zones. The Bristol Planning Commission, which has the authority to clarify zoning by-laws and revise them if necessary, has said it will take up this section of the town plan at upcoming meetings. That’s welcome involvement because surely the commission members will make every effort to seek public opinion to determine the will of the community. Town plans, after all, are approved by a majority of the town’s residents and crucial aspects of the plan should be reviewed and revised, if necessary, with the public will in mind.
The year 2008 may mark one of the turning points in the Middlebury’s history. It will be the year town residents committed to building the Cross Street Bridge, approved a $16 million bond and agreed to change the town’s charter to allow for the implementation of local option taxes. All were enormously important decisions.
But it will likely also mark the beginning of a renaissance in community betterment.
Let’s count the ways:
• This summer, after almost a decade in the making, Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater comes back to life. The extraordinary $6 million renovation of that historic building will have been completed and Middlebury’s arts scene will be more vibrant than ever before.
• A riverfront committee is making plans to continue improvement on the banks of the Otter Creek just below the falls, following up on work that began this past fall. If all goes according to plan, an outside amphitheater will get underway that will provide several rows of riverside seating (just above and beside the footbridge near the Marble Works’ picnic tables) and the potential for musical and theatric entertainment in the summer and fall when the weather permits.
That’s just one part of a long-range plan to more fully utilize the Otter Creek’s shoreline through the length of the town and beyond. Better canoe and boat access and egress points are also in the works, making it more convenient for boaters to appreciate the creek. Expanded parks and a running/walking path along the creek are also in the planning stages.
In his State of the State speech, Gov. James Douglas announced two ways to generate additional revenue. The first was to lease the state’s lottery for a one-time gain of $380 million. The second was to eliminate a loophole in the state’s tax laws that benefited Vermonters with unearned income and capital gains. Closing the loophole would generate approximately $21.4 million annually.
As Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, notes in his legislative column on Page 5, the Legislature has so far been opposed to leasing the lottery for fiscal and values-related reasons. We wholeheartedly agree. The one-time benefit means little in the long-term scheme of things, and the trade-off would turn the lottery into an enterprise that preys on Vermonters who don’t have the money to lose. It’s an unseemly proposition.
Both sides of the legislative aisle agree that closing the capital gains loophole is a good idea, and that’s to the governor’s credit. It’s not only a substantial amount of money into the state’s coffers each year, but it is an effective tax increase on the state’s wealthiest residents. Kudos, then, to the governor for going against his pledge not to increase taxes and taking action on this oversight that needed correcting.
And contrary to the Democrats’ suggestion to use that money for expenditures they suggest would lower property taxes, the governor’s plan to use the $21.4 million to lower income taxes for Vermonters has considerable merit.