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Prior to the March 2013 Town Meeting, the Waitsfield Town Office Task Force and the Waitsfield Select Board decided to support a new building on the Farm Stand site rather than the adaptive use of the Methodist Church, in spite of the strong public support that had developed for the church. A bond vote was warned for Town Meeting and the Farm Stand proposal failed.
The logical next step would have been to call a special town meeting and give the church a fair chance, with its own bond vote. That did not happen, in spite of the fact that the town knew about the availability of federal grants to help us in relocating our town offices. Now time seems to be of the essence.
What did happen was a citizen petition, from friends of the town offices, to vote on the Farm Stand site again. Including the church on the ballot gives an appearance of fairness. But it is not really fair. In the first part of the bond vote, the Farm Stand needs the church vote to support spending the money. Otherwise, the Farm Stand would likely fail again. If that vote passes and goes to the second part, then the town is already committed to spending over a million dollars for town offices.
In the second part, it is simply a choice between the Farm Stand and the church. If you did not favor bonding in the first place, which alternative would you vote for? I think it would be the less expensive of the two and the Farm Stand wins.
The citizen petition is a strategy to gain support for the bond vote and, once that is an accomplished fact, gain a majority vote in favor of the Farm Stand. The select board has spent serious time trying to make the wording of the vote legal, but attention has not been directed at the fact that the petition has been structured as a strategy to achieve a particular result. Moving in two parts, it may be leading the voters. I am an architect, not an attorney, and cannot speak to the legality.
This will be a difficult vote for the many citizens who would like to have safe and improved town offices but would also like to accomplish that in a major historic building that needs long-term preservation, will strengthen our historic village district and, in my opinion, can be adapted at reasonable cost.
Burley lives in Waitsfield.