Another Shelburne Selectboard meeting, another discussion about economic development and expediting the town’s application process.
The meeting Tuesday, Sept. 28, was designed to be that way with the agenda dedicating almost an hour and half to this discussion.
The question of what the town should do about economic development has been going on for more than two and half years, chair Mike Ashooh said.
More than 80 people attended in person or online, with the conversation focused and passionate but never heated.
Ashooh gave an overview of what Shelburne has done recently concerning economic development and streamlining its application process.
“The board has recognized that there’s been a lot of public concern and anxiety expressed, a lot of interest in what the economic development initiative means, what regulatory reform means, how this is related to the recent uptick in development in town, how we envision all of this kind of rolling together in terms of a vision for Shelburne moving forward,” he said.
For a while, there has been a perception in Shelburne that the business community has underperformed in tandem with concerns about development along Route 7, he said.
Those concerns led to the hiring of David Leckey of Leckey Consulting to look at economic development.
Leckey recommended that they streamline its permitting regulations, hire a full-time economic development person and seek designated downtown status.
Town manager Lee Krohn said, although the downtown designation would make the town eligible for certain grants, the status also forces the town to create an entity to work on economic development separately from the work of planning boards.
Before a permanent economic development person can be hired, Ashooh said other staffing issues need attention, including the hiring of a director of planning and zoning to replace Dean Pierce, who resigned in July, and a director of development and review to replace Ken Belliveau, who has been working on an interim basis.
The town has made some changes to some “low hanging fruit” in the permitting process, Ashooh said, attempting to alleviate stress for the development and review board.
Members of the development and review board have felt as if they were dealing with mere formalities that could be decided by town staffers, such as approving fences or boundary line adjustments.
Several chairs of different town committees and boards spoke about the need to have their organizations involved in the application process earlier, so the goals of these town entities can be incorporated into construction or development projects from the beginning.
Ted Grozier, chair of the bike and pedestrian paths committee, said, “My hope is just to improve the connectivity for people on two wheels or two feet to fulfill the town plan’s vision for safe, efficient transportation for those who are not using cars.”
To achieve this vision his committee needs to be involved in the earliest stages of a proposed development, not to meddle in the plans, but to bring creativity to bear on making developments viable and simultaneously pedestrian and bike friendly.
Gail Albert, chair of the natural resources and conservation committee, discussed the value of having her committee involved early in the permitting process as well, as a way of saving developers time and money by making recommendations that can be incorporated into designs.
But Shelburne resident Judy Raven said, “I think that right now having a sense of urgency about economic development is a misplaced sense of urgency.”
She said the town should feel more urgency about resiliency, climate mitigation, the environment and renewable energy.
Ashooh disagreed about this effort being misplaced but said, “I totally agree about climate resiliency.”
He said climate changes are coming “that will make the Gutenberg press look like small change.”
However, he believes that Shelburne needs to increase its wealth as a community to handle these climate changes and environmental concerns like a new wastewater treatment plant.
The town also needs the money to build a new fire and rescue building, Ashooh said.
“The fascinating irony I find is that across the country, the buildings that we all cherish the most were all built before there were any rules. Think about that in Shelburne — the historic town hall, the buildings at Shelburne Farms,” Krohn said. “Courthouses and schools and municipal buildings across the country, the Supreme Court library — those buildings that we cherish were built long before rules.”