Salisbury residents polled on town issues

SALSIBURY — Salisbury residents have given their municipal planners some food for thought as they prepare revisions to the community’s town plan.
The Salisbury Planning Commission is currently interpreting the results of a town-wide survey that sought residents’ opinions on issues ranging from the future of the municipal landfill to the health of Lake Dunmore.
Survey results are expected to guide the planning commission’s actions as it completes its latest five-year update to the town plan. That update is expected to be completed next year.
More than 80 residents completed the survey, which for the first time this year was available on-line. Most of the 42 questions called for respondents to rank issues based on importance (or lack of importance). Other questions allowed respondents to elaborate, or qualify their responses.
While commission members were somewhat disappointed with the return rate on the survey, they seemed pleased with the feedback it generated.
“I thought it was really helpful,” planning commission member Jim Eagan said of the survey.
Some of the most telling survey results included:
•  67 percent said the community’s town hall should be maintained, in the long term, for broader use. The building is currently used by the town library, and major community gatherings are currently held at the elementary school.
•  57 percent said they either did not know Salisbury had a town forest and/or had never visited the property. The town forest consists of more than 100 acres and is located off Upper Plains Road, across from the municipal landfill.
Almost 78 percent of respondents acknowledged that the town forest “is an important public resource.” Almost 52 percent of those answering the survey said the town should apply for grants to create a forest management plan.
•  49 percent of respondents “strongly disagreed” with the statement that the town landfill should be closed as soon as possible. Salisbury and Bristol operate the only unlined landfills remaining in Vermont. Around 74 percent of those answering agreed the landfill should remain open until it reaches capacity “as long as the town does not have to subsidize its operation.” Currently, the landfill accepts waste from surrounding towns in order to cover operational costs. Once decommissioned, the landfill site should be used as a transfer station of household waste and recycling, 63 percent of respondents indicated.
•  74 percent of respondents said they believed the biggest threats to quality of life in the town’s lake districts is “lake pollution from degraded septic systems.” Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they believed it was “very important” for the Salisbury Planning Commission to “investigate alternative community waste water treatment systems for this area of Salisbury.”
•  60 percent of those answering the survey said they believe lakeshore camp owners should continue to have the option of converting their properties to year-round homes if they agree to “specific design standards.”
•  72 percent of those surveyed agreed that it is “very important” to prevent the spread of nuisance aquatic weeds in Lake Dunmore,. A clear majority also agreed that the town should develop rules requiring septic system upgrades and prevent fertilizer runoff to stem the growth of aquatic weeds.
•  Half of those surveyed said the town should maintain its current commercial/industrial district on Route 7.
Survey results also showed widespread support for having businesses grow in the village center. People said they liked Salisbury’s sense of community, proximity to Middlebury, school system, Lake Dunmore and rural setting. Among the dislikes cited were the prevalence of mosquitoes during the summer, “nasty town politics,” taxes, speeding vehicles, and recent transplants seeking to transform the town into their own version of utopia.
Planning commission members are still pouring over the data. Commission Chairwoman Martha Sullivan said she wants more people to weigh in with their opinions, as she believes the 86 survey respondents fall short of reflecting the overall opinions of the approximately 1,100 residents in Salisbury.
People should take advantage of the chance to weigh in, Sullivan said.
“People don’t seem to realize that the town plan is the governing plan for development,” Sullivan said.
Unfortunately, she noted, people tend to react to a town plan after the fact and sometimes only at the point at which they pitch a development proposal that gets rejected.
“They are doing it backwards,” she said.
Planning commission member Deb Brighton was also hoping for a bigger survey return.
“We need to do more work with the people exploring the (town plan) options and defining directions,” she said.
The commission will hold some public hearings on the town plan revision during the months ahead.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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