MIDDLEBURY — Ted Davis finished just 43 votes shy of winning a spot on the Middlebury selectboard last year.
The retired insurance company executive and current chairman of the Middlebury Development Review Board is burning shoe leather this winter in an effort to prevail in a March 4 election in which eight residents are competing for three selectboard seats that are up for grabs.
“I realized last year that I didn’t work hard enough,” Davis said of last year’s election results, which saw him finish fourth, with 321 tallies, in what was a five-way race for three spots on the seven-member board.
So Davis has been going door-to-door stumping for votes in one of the most hotly contested selectboard races in years.
Spicing up this year’s contest is a plan — also to be decided on March 4 — to erect a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road. The proposal also calls for Middlebury College to acquire the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. In exchange, the college would assume $4.5 million in debt for the town’s new municipal building and recreation center, projects that have been budgeted at a combined total of $6.5 million. The college has also offered to pay $1 million to move its Osborne House from 77 Main St. to the Cross Street parcel and to clear 94 Main St. for use as a college-owned public park.
It’s a plan that has drawn sharp criticism from some residents who believe the town should either rebuild or renovate its current facilities at their current location. The proposal has also been criticized for being shortsighted on parking needs, for potentially hemming in future expansion of the adjacent Ilsley Library, and for being too quickly conceived.
Supporters argue the proposal would net the town two new buildings for a taxpayer outlay of $2 million — roughly 2 cents on the municipal tax rate.
“There is a great divide we have in our community today,” Davis said, alluding to the project. “I gave (the race) a lot of thought and decided I wanted to have a place at the table to look at this whole thing.”
Davis is opposed to the current project, arguing that it does not comply with Middlebury’s town plan and that residents have not had enough time to weigh in on the issue. Middlebury’s town plan advocates that the municipal building and gym be kept at their present location. Selectboard members who favor the $6.5 million plan argue that recent estimates show the current town buildings cannot be replaced or renovated at their current location at a price Middlebury taxpayers can afford.
“Many residents don’t believe we are ready, as a community, to accept this plan as presented by this selectboard,” Davis said. “I agree. This proposal is clearly contrary to our 2012 Town Plan, which is the document that guides all development in our community.”
Davis, 61, is a former Middlebury Planning Commission member and represents his community on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
“If elected, I will provide the leadership that allows a broader public discussion on major decisions with such serious implications,” he added. “While I cannot support the current bond proposal, I am eager to work with both citizens and the college to construct a new proposal that will be a win-win for both.”
Davis argues the community was not able to influence the project in its early stages. The framework of a town-gown deal was unveiled last June, having already been negotiated between a minority of the selectboard and key college officials. College trustees OK’d the proposal before it was officially unveiled to townspeople.
“It felt rushed,” Davis said of the planning process.
“If we sell this land to the college, it’s forever.”
Davis also objects to the manner in which the selectboard shifted its choice of spot for the new recreation center. The leading site had been at the town recreation park, near Mary Hogan Elementary School. ID-4 school directors — who control what might be built at the park — raised concerns about the impact the recreation center could have on student safety and traffic circulation at the school. School officials recommended additional studies, but the selectboard — citing time constraints — shifted focus to a new site off Creek Road owned by UD-3. Terms of a proposed town-UD-3 lease agreement are still being hammered out (see related story on Page 1A).
“The ID-4 board did their job and asked questions,” Davis said. “I don’t think the selectboard was very empathetic to their suggestions.”
Davis said he’s concerned about traffic flow to and from a Creek Road recreation facility and whether the town would need to make improvements to the Creek Road/Route 7 intersection.
While Davis would prefer to rebuild or renovate the municipal building and gym at 94 Main St., he pledged — if elected — to see through the $6.5 million plan if it’s OK’d by voters on Town Meeting Day.
But Davis stressed he is not a single-issue candidate.
He said he developed a lot of knowledge about the needs of the business community during his 41 years with the Co-operative Insurance Company. He retired last fall as senior vice president of information services and facilities. Davis said he’s a big supporter of Middlebury’s new Office of Business Development & Innovation, led by Jamie Gaucher. That office, co-funded by townspeople, Middlebury College and local entrepreneurs, is focused on attracting new businesses in Middlebury and growing existing local enterprises.
“I think it’s a worthwhile investment in our community, and I believe we’ve got the right person for the job,” he said of the effort. “We’ve got to find ways to grow our tax base in a way that fits our community.”
Other issues that Davis believes should be on the town’s radar screen: Implementing, with state and federal aid, safeguards within the Middlebury River to prevent future flooding in East Middlebury; attracting additional affordable housing for people seeking to live and work in Middlebury; and determining what kind of large retail entity might be compatible with Middlebury in order to prevent the migration of local shoppers to commercial hubs in Chittenden and Rutland counties. The Better Middlebury Partnership has already initiated a study to help answer this question.
“We have to figure out how to write our zoning laws to make sure we get (the retail) that we want,” Davis said.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.