Your Top Town Priorities?
By Gregory T. Federspiel
The Select Board typically holds a workshop session in the summer to assess how the preceding year went, see what refinements to process and meeting formats might be helpful, and to identify what the priority projects are for the coming months. In preparation for this year’s workshop, it would be helpful to hear directly from residents how you would respond to these three categories.
The number of issues that the Select Board and Town staff deal with seems to grow every year. The past fiscal year (July through June) was certainly in keeping with this trend. COVID persisted after taking a break last summer. Mask mandates or advisories? Outdoor dining or on-street parking? Continue to meet virtually or in person? Hopefully COVID is turning more into more of a nuisance cold rather than a life-threatening disease but we cannot know for sure and thus must continue to monitor developments closely.
The proposed 40B project went from the LIP negotiations to the formal comprehensive permitting processes before the ZBA. A new spotlight has been shone on affordable housing. A final decision on the current 40B project could take many years. In the meantime, we will likely see continued interest in constructing affordable housing in town. Past community surveys have shown a high degree of interest in diversifying our housing stock. Do you agree that this should remain a high priority? If so, what specific approaches to you favor? More flexibility in how and where ADU’s (accessory dwelling units) can be built? Allow higher density in certain parts of town? In the Village? What about the Affordable Housing Trust partnering with the Manchester Housing Authority to renovate and expand the number of available affordable units? They are moving forward with requests for proposals for doing an innovative public/private partnership including some market rate housing to subsidize affordable units.
While a more diverse housing stock is desired, there is also a desire to protect the Town’s small town character and natural resources. Having 30% of a community’s land base preserved is often cited as the desired standard for communities. We are fortunate that we are already above this threshold. However, there remains high interest in protecting a bigger portion of our watershed and other important environmentally sensitive lands. What lands would you prioritize to protect? More of the “western woods”? More watershed lands? How best do we achieve greater conservation?
The future sustainability of our utilities is often cited as a big concern. We know that our sewer treatment plant is vulnerable to flooding from storms and sea level rise. Should we assume the plant is going to remain where it is and thus focus on fortifying it against flooding or do we look at alternatives, either within town or with our neighboring municipalities? All options here will be very expensive.
And what about other threats from changes induced by climate change? Flooding in certain parts of town will be a major problem, including the core Village area. How do we best control flooding? Do we build higher seawalls? Is a storm gate at the mouth of the harbor a viable option? Are there ways to channel water away from the built environment or otherwise harness nature’s strategies to mitigate the threat of floods? Are there areas we will not be able to protect? How important a priority is all of this to you?
While our water supply remains good there, it is not unlimited. Currently the Water Resources Task Force is undertaking a complete review of our system and will be making recommendations for how best to protect our water going forward. Should this include phasing out the use of good drinking water for irrigation purposes? Should we proceed now with plans to treat our water for a group of manmade chemicals knows as PFAS that have shown up but so far remain below treatment thresholds? Again, what are the priorities in the face of limited financial resources?
There is no lack of topics to confront. Indeed, the challenge is to decide which issues should be on the top of the priority list and the focus of our time and financial resources. And the process by which we make decisions as a community needs constant fine-tuning. How information is shared through what venues in a changing media landscape deserves attention as well.
Drop us a note here at Town Hall to share your thoughts on these and any other priorities you feel are needed.