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Water bond vote addresses MRV planning vision

10/30/2008

By Joshua Schwartz

Is there a consensus "vision" for the Mad River Valley? When it comes to land development there exists a body of work that points to a central philosophy: Continue the historic settlement pattern of compact villages surrounded by rural countryside. This theme has been identified through two Valley-wide visioning exercises; 1980 Mad River Valley Perspectives and the Valley Forum Series in 1990.

This image is echoed in the state's statutory planning and development goals and has been espoused in the municipal plans of each of The Valley towns. These documents make the argument that farming and its associated open-space benefits are made economically viable when development pressures are focused in specific locations.

The plans also illustrate that there is a great need to develop housing for all members of our community, specifically those of modest income, and that this is easiest to achieve when lot sizes are of historic dimensions, thereby reducing land and utility costs. Last but not least, all iterations of the Town Plans encourage commercial and other business activities in locations that contribute to the historic settlement pattern and balance rural character.

The central commercial area within The Valley towns of Fayston, Waitsfield and Warren are the villages of Waitsfield and Irasville. This relatively small area provides the vast majority of commercial activity for The Valley, while balancing the competing elements of a historic walkable village and "car-centric" development.

The importance of this area is so great, in fact, that Fayston's 2008 Town Plan identifies it as "...the Mad River Valley's downtown commercial center..." and encourages the town of Waitsfield to further its development.

If historic Waitsfield and Irasville are The Valley's hub of "downtown" activity, and compact villages are paramount for preserving economically viable agriculture operations, increasing housing affordability and activating the commercial sector, then what is required to foster its development? The answer is municipal water and sewer. Why? Because village densities can't be achieved with on-site sewer and water systems.

The town of Waitsfield has been working towards a municipal water and sewer system for over 20 years to enable the village/Irasville to serve as the Mad River Valley's downtown. The implementation of such a system, or a portion of such, furthers a vision that has been shared throughout The Valley for at least the past 28 years. The vote on November 4 is an opportunity to move the Mad River Valley beyond vision and towards fulfillment.

Schwartz is the director of the Mad River Valley Planning District.
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