Warren Select Board members and planning commissioners sat down on October 24 to discuss the Town Plan, which is currently being updated. Throughout the conversation, they discussed affordable housing in Warren, commercial zoning and, generally, what suggestions can planning commissioners put in the Town Plan that will help Warren to thrive?
Affordable housing has been tagged as a serious issue numerous times in the past few years: in the 2015 Vision and Vitality Series, in an economic study done by the Mad River Valley Planning District and most recently in a survey that the Warren Select Board circulated to its residents. The Mad River Valley Planning District hired a second full-time employee last year, Kristine Keeney, who is currently working on the issue of affordable housing.
The issue is clear and noted.
Eventually, the planning commissioners and select board members found themselves asking, “What can we, as a small local government, actually do to incentivize people to build new and affordable homes in Warren?”
Secondly, the group discussed where to zone commercially in Warren. Should businesses be kept at just the bottom and top of Sugarbush Access Road, or should the planning commission open up that entire route?
Finally, select board member Bob Ackland said he believes most commercial zoning in The Valley should be kept in Waitsfield, which acts as the center for business. He suggested that The Valley’s towns should not be working independently but rather together to create one successful community.
Ackland is certainly right, but the idea comes with some obvious issues. As Randy Graves, who is a member of both the select board and the planning commission, pointed out, the town’s budget is built from taxes that come from either residents or businesses, so if Warren pushes business into Waitsfield, Warren could suffer financially.
Although there are problems that would need to be solved, Ackland is on the right track. Currently, there are five select boards, five planning commissions, five development review boards, all simply working to make our towns successful and great places to live.
But we do not live in isolated communities. The Valley functions as one being and it makes sense to view things holistically and start making decisions that way.