Opinion: Ignoring town and regional plans ignores public process

The June 26 edition of the Addison Independent featured a story on proposed changes to the Middlebury Town Plan by the Middlebury Planning Commission. The report claimed that the changes were necessary to “clarify language that might have been ambiguous.” Not that they were ambiguous, but might be.
Part of the proposed change is to remove the words “and support renovation” from the following statement: “Ensure that the Post Office, town offices and community services remain in their downtown prominent, accessible locations and support renovation.” The Planning Commission also proposed that the paragraph on page 112 that talks about redevelopment of the current municipal building/gym site be deleted, while also calling for the removal of additional language calling for the replacement/renovation of the municipal building.
These are substantial changes to language that is not ambiguous, nor are the changes “minor adjustments” or simply “housekeeping” as some would like us townspeople to believe. The significant changes proposed for the town plan have become necessary because the plan clearly does NOT support the selectboard’s ambition to sell off the municipal building/gym site to Middlebury college and rebuild them elsewhere rather than renovate. The characterization of the proposed changes as minor and insignificant is disingenuous and insulting to the intelligence of the residents of Middlebury. These proposed changes are needed to protect the town from legal action since the current municipal building/college deal is not in conformance with the Middlebury Town Plan as currently written.
In the same edition of the Independent, Angelo Lynn stated in an editorial that changing the town plan to reflect the recent vote on the college land deal was always anticipated as part of the process if voters approved the proposal. In actuality, when the Middlebury selectboard was asked directly at an open meeting about the municipal building/college deal’s apparent lack of conformity to the town plan, the public was told that the selectboard had checked with Planning Commission Chair Nancy Malcolm, and that the deal met the intent of the town plan. If the Planning Commission and selectboard actually anticipated that the town plan would have to be changed should the town vote to support the land deal, then this statement was intentionally false and appears to be an intentional effort to mislead the electorate.
It is also extremely poor governance, since it seems to me that the proper procedure would be to change the town plan and then pursue a municipal building/college deal that conforms to the town plan, not make the deal first and change the plan to conform to the deal after the fact.
The town plan proposed revisions come on the heels of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s (ACRPC) recent vote in support of Vermont Gas’ goal of building a pipeline through the towns of Middlebury, Cornwall and Shoreham for the International Paper Co., in Ticonderoga, N.Y. The Regional Planning Commission is attempting to ignore the fact that the IP pipeline is clearly contrary to both the language and the intent of the Addison County Regional Plan.
When our local selectboards and commissions choose to ignore their own plans, or pursue actions that do not conform to them and try to change the plans after the fact, they are showing disrespect and contempt not only toward their plans, but also to all the people who worked so hard to craft, review, debate and approve those plans.
In a sleight of hand, our selectboards and commissions openly flaunt and work against plans that are approved through a democratic, public process, and then label anyone who objects and stands in support of the plan as being a critical opponent of the project in question. The facts are that such selectboards or commissions have become opponents of their own plans as written and the questioning public are simply supporters of proper democratic process.
If we really believe in integrity and the principles of democracy we will not allow the terrible precedents of changing our duly approved plans to conform to otherwise inappropriate projects, rather than work to develop plans that conform to our town and regional plans as written.
Ross Conrad, East Middlebury

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