Working toward the Common Good
By Gregory T. Federspiel
No doubt 2020 will go down in the history books as quite the year. Of course, a major reason will be because of the pandemic. The recent national election will garner special attention too, as will the Black Lives Matter Movement and the challenges we are facing to maintain civil discourse. Certainly, on a national level we seem to be a country growing further apart, retreating into our “tribes” with ill will towards “others”. I, for one, hope we can reverse this trend and see the many areas of common ground that unite us. Working at the local level provides a great opportunity to demonstrate that we share much in common and that good can arise from collaboration.
One reason cited for the US having one of the highest infection rates for COVID is the staunch individualism that is part of the American psyche. As a people we sometimes confuse “freedom” to mean doing whatever we please. Any well-functioning society places limits on this definition of freedom. We are also a people that rallies to help those in need. We are at a point in the pandemic where we are tired of the restrictions and wanting to be with extended family during the holiday season. For our own good and the good of our communities, we need to resist this desire. Now is a good time to rally to help each other out.
We have seen our own COVID mini surge in town, likely due in large part to returning family members and Thanksgiving gatherings. The message remains critical – avoid gathering with those outside your immediate family and continue to follow the COVID protocols. To help stop the spread of the virus, the Town is providing free testing days to residents on Tuesday, December 15 and Saturday, December 19th, and, depending on demand, later dates as well. We will use some of our CARES Act funds to pay for these tests. Test results will take 2-3 days to be returned to you. See the Town website for additional details.
Rallying together is needed as we work through various other issues facing the community. Future capital and school funding needs will challenge us as will rising sea levels and more severe storms. The privately proposed 40B project has forced us to consider the types of housing we have in town. State law allows a 40B project to advance basically saying to a municipality that has not been providing a diversity of housing: you have not met state housing goals so we are going to allow a developer to by-pass the normal local permitting process and build a project.
To many people this does not feel “fair” and seems to trample local self-determination, but the law was put into place to prevent communities from providing only limited housing options. Can we rally as a community with solutions that diversify our housing stock while keeping true to the character of the town? There are some promising plans underway that do this. Completing these plans will require a multi-year effort, possible changes to our existing zoning regulations, and finding common ground on the paths forward.
Whether such a coming together can alter the current 40B proposal remains to be seen. The Selectmen will continue to work through one avenue – the Local Initiative Program – to see if it will generate a more positive outcome. Other avenues may also materialize. Assuming the developer continues to advance the project, it also will undergo the public hearing process before the ZBA as part of the Comprehensive Permitting process once it receives a project eligibility letter from the state.
When dealing with complex challenges emotions can run high and civility sometimes suffers. Town staff have seen this throughout this tumultuous year in a host of settings. People have strong feelings about a given topic. Stress levels are higher as well as we all deal with the disruptions the pandemic has caused. Staff work hard to help the community advance its goals and to work through the many issues that arise. I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated and professional staff who care about the community and the services they are providing. Residents and staff are in this together and, as we find the common ground that will lead us forward, I am confident we can continue to create the community we desire.