By Carol Casey
The Shelburne Planning office has posted an online survey intended to gather public input on future development in parts of Shelburne village, east of Falls Road and extending north to the planned Harrington Village. The impetus for the survey is a study authorized by the Selectboard in 2012 for a market assessment, parking analysis, and identification of infrastructure and potential regulatory issues should a connector road be built in the future. Town Planner Dean Pierce was quick to point out that this survey is separate from a concurrent examination of ways to improve the intersection of the Route 7/Falls Road/Harbor Road intersection and does not mean that the construction of a connector road is either imminent or agreed upon. Rather, the survey is intended to gather the opinions of townspeople as to what type of development they would like to see in this area in order to give guidance to the consultants as they move forward with their analysis. The analysis of the impact such a connector road would have is considered to be a crucial piece of information needed by the Selectboard when they decide whether to move ahead with a connector road. Pierce also clarified that the connector road is not meant to be a bypass for Route 7 traffic passing through the Falls Road/Harbor Road intersection; rather, it would be used primarily by residents of Harrington Village or the mobile home park who wish to go to the Shelburne Shopping Park without using Route 7.
The survey is not meant for the faint of heart. It can take as many as 30 minutes to complete, although respondents can save the portions they have completed and return to finish it at another time. Approximately 60 people have already completed the survey and Pierce hopes more will take advantage of this opportunity to share their preferences for development options with the consultants. Additional information about the survey is on the Town’s website, www.shelburnevt.org, where a link to the survey is listed under “Village Land Use Opinion Survey” at the bottom of the list of “Related Links.”
An immediate criticism of the survey was that it doesn’t begin by asking respondents whether they are in favor of a connector road. According to Pierce, that was never the intent of the survey or the study. There will be ample opportunity for townspeople to have input on whether the road should be built, Pierce noted. Selectboard member Toni Supple, who was not a member of the Selectboard at the time the study was authorized by the Selectboard, characterized the survey as “very confusing to people” and added that it “creates mistrust and alarm among townspeople and does more harm than good.”
In part to counter the criticism the survey had generated and, more importantly, to inform the public about it, Pierce conducted an open meeting on Sept. 16. Approximately 25 people attended, including several members of the Historic Preservation and Design Review Commission (HPDRC) and the Planning Commission. A number of people at the meeting expressed frustration about the “multiple choice” nature of the survey, stating that there needed to be dialog about development options and an opportunity to explain why or why not they preferred different alternatives. HPDRC member Dorothea Penar noted that she’s “not keen on planning by survey,” and HPDRC member David Webster urged that the larger issue be addressed. He suggested that the question of “What do we want this road to accomplish?” be addressed before moving forward. Pierce responded that the survey was designed to jump-start the scenario development process, giving the consultants a sense of what townspeople would like to see in this area of the village. The survey is meant to address the question of “If there was such a road, what would you like to see?” rather than “Would you like the road to be built?”
The consultants have been charged with developing three different scenarios and assessing the implications of each. The first would be a “status quo” option without a connector road; the second would be limited development; and the third would be more intense development. One resident characterized the survey as being a “very specific vision with limited options” and suggested allowing the consultants to develop their own scenarios first for presentation to the public for an open discussion.
Some thought that if the connector road was intended only to serve the residents of Harrington Village and the mobile home park, then those owners should be responsible for assuming the costs of the road, rather than the town as a whole. Pierce responded that the question of how such a road, if ever built, would be funded, would obviously be discussed by the Selectboard during their deliberations.
Further discussion of the survey will take place at the Planning Commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7 pm in the Town Center. In the meantime, interested townspeople are encouraged to take the survey and/or express their views to the Town Planner.
Click here for the Village Land Use Opinion Survey.