Open Space and Natural Area Enhancement Plan: I support the March, 2016 ballot item to use ½ cent for the improvement of the City’s parks and nature areas (Red Rocks, Wheeler, and Underwood) over a period of ten years. This proposed ballot item has been vetted by our citizen committees. We have completed management plans for Red Rocks and Wheeler and a vision and initial strategies for Underwood. These plans have already been paid for and are, therefore, an investment that I believe we need to act upon NOW, before invasive species already present in the parks (particularly Wheeler) and degradation of the park’s trails (particularly Red Rocks) worsen even more and, therefore, incur greater expense. Ideally, we would add ½ cent to our budget for this purpose and leave untouched the 1 cent open space fund, intended for the acquisition of open space. Given all of the budget’s goals (Affordable Housing Trust Fund, increased staffing for our Police and Planning/Zoning Departments, maintenance of City Services), the fiscal realities at present, and unknowns at the state level regarding education funding, an additional tax levy does not seem feasible. If, within the ten-year period, the City would like to purchase land, we can still do so through a low-interest loan, as we did in order to buy Underwood (a beautiful piece of land with wooded trails and views of Lake Champlain). We have just paid back this loan and are amassing reserve funds anew (roughly $300,000 per year). The ½ cent Open Space and Natural Area Enhancement Plan would put between $130,000-150,000 per year toward conservation management and the upkeep of our natural areas, a much needed step.
The heavy usage of S.B.’s athletic fields: The Recreation and Parks Department staff put together a needs list, which was presented to the Council a year ago. This is not a Master Plan, but along with the Open Space IZ Task Force Report and Management plans for Wheeler and Red Rocks, it is keeping our parks and open spaces on the priority list. I expect to see this move forward with our current Director and the advocacy efforts of Recreation and Leisure Arts Committee members.
The COMPREHENSIVE PLAN:
Recommendation that all residents be within 1/4 mile of and have easy, safe access to a park: I am a huge proponent of pocket parks and green space, neighborhood gardens, playgrounds and nature areas for passive recreation.
East-West Roads in the SEQ: I see the value in having a new east-west road through the Southeast Quadrant (SEQ). Our public safety (fire and police) state that it’s necessary for them to be able to provide an expected level of service, specifically response time. We currently have walking and bike paths that connect 116 to Dorset and these serve those residents well (as well as recreational cyclists). We also have natural areas in the SEQ with trails, therefore enticing walkers, cross-country skiers, photographers… When a new east-west road is proposed, I want to see (and have been assured by our Planning and Zoning Director) that we will see the application of the code: narrow, winding, tree-lined streets that will act to calm traffic, thus serving both public safety needs and the needs of our local residents. Also, to ensure the protection of the environment and wildlife, any such road will require a full study through the Act 250 process.
Residential and commercial growth: Both the Director of Public Works and the Fire Chief have both stated publicly that we could reach a point in development that would stretch City services too thin, thus requiring an increase in staffing levels and, therefore, a significant tax increase. It is important for Councilors to keep focused on maintaining this delicate balance. One solution that our City Manager is exploring, with Council support, is regional services. The services provided by our stormwater office, a leader in the State of Vermont, are ripe for this type of shared arrangement. In some cases, it could lessen the need for overtime or, as in the case of stormwater, create a new revenue source. I also wish to add that I advocate a residential/commercial/open space balance not only for quality of life reasons but also for economic (i.e., tax base) reasons.