It appears there is still some confusion about my role in appealing the Putney Park and Ride.
The more than two hundred people (including myself) that have signed a petition requesting a smaller project are not opposed to having a park and ride in Putney. In fact we believe that one should be built, and that park and rides (if used) will help save energy.
A park and ride at this location has been "in the works for over 10 years,", starting with a small group of citizens on the "Fire House Committee." That group seems to remember a project with no more than 25 spots. Since Putney is not located near east-west roads or bridges, 25 spots may have been appropriate at the time. Fast forward 10 years, and the project has grown to 84 spaces, and six-100 watt lights and three charging stations for electric cars. This is where I entered the picture, with concerns over energy usage.
For the record, the evening I found out about the full scope of the project was the same evening that the Development Review Boards in both Dummerston and Putney met to approve the project.
The lack of any previous public meetings presenting this project to the public was a clear violation of state statues "To encourage citizen participation at all levels of the planning process, and to assure that decisions shall be made at the most local level possible commensurate with their impact."
Vermont Agency of Transportation also had put great pressure on both towns of Putney and Dummerston to accept the project without question. A "take it or leave it attitude" coupled with a "build it and they will come" laissez-faire attitude left a sour taste in several peoples mouths that night.
With no actual usage study or needs assessment performed, the project presenter assured us that this large project was needed by commuters while we were left wondering who in Putney would actually use this parking area and for what?
More than 10 years ago, the Putney Planning Commission prepared a survey of residents and landowners. Forms were included in the mailing of the Town Report, and were also distributed at Town Meeting in March, 2000. About 75 were returned. Though not "scientific," this survey indicates that attitudes about growth and development have not significantly changed from previous Planning Commission surveys taken over the last 25 years. Residents value Putney’s rural feeling and small town character, and appear to be interested in supporting regulations that would maintain those qualities.
Respondents were asked to select the top three items from several lists dealing with the town’s assets, problems, housing, and other development issues. The results indicate they appreciate the Town for its natural beauty, quality of life, and small town atmosphere. Affordable housing was listed as the most significant problem in Putney. Land speculation and development and the amount of traffic on the roads completed the top three concerns.
In thier park and ride deliberations, the Putney DRB did not take this information into account, in fact the DRB can look only look at a very small slice of information and related criteria to base their decisions on and in this case since the state was applying for permits for a project, several potential issues were waved or not applicable. The fact is that the large project will change the nature of the small town of Putney. This project is in the southern part of town where there is open land ready for development, and where people in affordable housing live. These people did not choose to have a parking lot built across from their homes. Putney’s people were never included in any meaningful way to determine the size of the project.
There are several other key provisions in the Town Plan -- "Adequately meet the needs of the Town for housing, education, communication, safety, health and employment." We believe that the lack of a sidewalk in a very busy section of State Highway merits consideration in a project like this. It is not safe to walk to the proposed Park and Ride, there are no sidewalks, no street lights and no cross walk on Route 5.
Also: "Limit development that would significantly change the character of the community and/or adversely affect neighboring properties." This in itself is a key provision, and apparently not recognized by the DRB. And: "Establish the principle that the public good of the entire community must be of primary consideration as we plan for the future of our Town."
Since the public was not involved in this decision or in any other meetings or presentations, our Town Plan was clearly not consulted by the DRB. Park and rides exist to serve commuters and to relieve congestion either on highways or destinations. Since no real needs assessment was performed we feel that this project does not serve the people of Putney.
So the only option to slow things down and have a real discussion was to appeal this project, and as a non-lawyer it has been a terrifically educational experience, but also frustrating. The laws that govern "small" projects like this are not bound by Act 250, the state can pretty much do what it wants, since it owns the land, and all of the permits applied for have been granted.
The goals here are simple: Smaller size parking area for up to 36 spots, with 6 handicap accessible; two Smart LED lights with motion sensors, on only when needed, the smart part is that they offer a lower illumination after 11 p.m.; four high capacity 220-volt charging stations, two low capacity 110-volt charging stations; if the state wants to avoid coming back to enlarge this project then lets include a good number of charging stations; larger bus shelter, which should be identical to the existing metal and glass shelter to match the one installed bus shelter, and be illuminated with a solar powered lighting system not wood that will break down and decay quickly; larger high-capacity bike shelter for 12 bikes with grid rack, and bike lockers for up to six bikes. We want to promote bike and pedestrian use. Let’s keep the bikes dry and safe for commuters; and state funding for a sidewalk connector from the project to the corner of Route 5 and Alice Holloway Road.
Daniel Hoviss, a resident of Putney has an appeal pending before the Vermont Environmental Court about the approval of the park in ride. Currently Hoviss is involved in mediation efforts to resolve the issue prior to a hearing before the court.