NEWFANE — Having the right infrastructure is top of the mind for town leaders as they consider how to best spend federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
At the Select Board meeting last Monday, Board Vice Chairwoman Ann Golob said the Planning Commission had previously surveyed the public on how to use the money and came back with several recommendations in January; the board then decided to have a series of informational meetings to learn more about what would be involved in implementation. Newfane received $400,936 in APRA funds.
Windham Regional Commission Executive Director Chris Campany said when town villages were first created, “our relationship to water was really different.”
“It took a lot of work to get water into the house and dispose of it,” he said.
When communities discuss developing new wastewater systems, Campany said it’s not just for the sake of having a system but about health reasons, retaining or adding homes and businesses, and creating flexibility for expansion. He estimated that half of Vermont’s villages lack wastewater treatment facilities.
Not having those systems can limit possibilities, Campany said, such as new housing, brewpubs and day care centers. He suggested asking residents in “compact settlements” how their systems are working, and see if they would voluntarily have their water quality checked.
Campany stressed the importance of having the proper infrastructure to support new housing.
Data from the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust shows the largest growth in local population is among those 62 and older. “Real growth” also is occurring in the age group between 35 and 44, Campany said.
Newfane could handle about 25 new housing units, he said, referring to it as a number that makes a project worthwhile for developers. He said the village has “at least ghosts of sidewalks,” which can be upgraded to improve mobility.
“The integration of more housing into a community can be seamless,” he said. “Because of the nature of our Vermont villages with relatively large homes that connected to barns, you can actually develop a number of units in a building at a scale that’s completely in keeping with the character of the village.”
Most people haven’t planned for funding new wastewater systems, said Juli Beth Hinds, principal at Birchline Planning LLC of San Diego, Calif., who’s originally from Vermont and has expertise in water resource management, wastewater and stormwater utility and program development.
“That’s a very tough conversation,” she said via videoconference. “But the good news is that we really do have a bigger suite of solutions and financing options than we did even five, six years ago. This is great. It’s testimony to a lot of great work around the state.”
Hinds pointed to community loan funds available for upgrading, building or refinancing privately owned systems. She said there’s now more knowledge about how to manage and fund shared septic systems, and improvements to help integrate multiple funding streams into a project.
Options for financing cited by Hinds include ARPA funds, State Village Wastewater Solutions funding that provides as much as $125,000, and long-term individual or town-sponsored loans. She said the community will want to think about how many gallons will be needed for a wastewater system based on housing units and different types of businesses.
Hinds suggested the Select Board could host a discussion on whether the town should set up a loan program or help organize a project; more geographic information system (GIS) mapping could be done to understand the layout of parcels of land, existing permits for wells and septic systems, and permitting requirements; surveys can gauge public interest; and planning and education could inform next steps.
Waitsfield voters approved a $750,000 bond to guarantee loans to private property owners for replacing, expanding or pre-treating wastewater systems.
“The town-supported loan system has been terrific,” Hinds said. “It filled a need without having to build a central system.”
No matter what project is chosen, Hinds warned board members, they will have to deal with uncertainty and concerns about changing the character of the village. She emphasized the need for outreach.
Dan DeWalt of South Newfane recommended exploring the use of composting toilets.
They’re “underutilized in Vermont,” Hinds responded. “If you get the right situation, they can be a great solution.”
Julia Tadlock, who is planning to manage the Newfane Flea Market when it reopens in May and founded Brattleboro Flea, asked for ARPA funds to support the market. She said it would boost economic development in the community.
The board agreed to discuss her proposal at its next meeting on April 4. That same night, Campany will return to discuss Planning Commission recommendations to purchase and/or renovate a building or buildings in Newfane to develop a multi-use center for housing, and to promote businesses and provide multi-generational community space, partner with neighboring towns to create a multi-use center providing multi-generational community space and create a shuttle service between Newfane and neighboring towns, and support healthy living by establishing bicycle and walking infrastructure.
The community space is envisioned as a place that could offer food service, entertainment and recreation, such as a skate park, swimming pool or skating rink. Campany will discuss why he suggests that Newfane apply for a municipal planning grant from the state as a way to address those recommendations.
Maxwell Vandervliet, associate principal of Main Street Group and a recently arrived Newfane resident, will join the talk. As a town planner, he completed a housing analysis for Waterbury, Vermont.
At a meeting starting at 6 p.m. April 18, Deerfield Valley Communications Union District Board Vice Chairman Steven John and the district board’s Newfane representative Jane Douglas are coming to talk about the broadband rollout occurring throughout Windham County. The discussion is in response to the Planning Commission’s recommendation to allocate funding for broadband expenses to reach residents where service isn’t affordable.