Letters to the Editor: Middlebury falling short on housing, infrastructure, economy

With regards your recent article on Middlebury’s quest for an “Economic Health Committee:”
Instead of another committee, may I humbly suggest we just install a sidewalk on Exchange Street.
In over 40 years in business in Vermont, four years on the Vermont House Commerce and Economic Development Committee, and many stints on local and state economic development councils, I have arrived at the conclusion that the best hope for a community is to focus on three things: affordable housing, transportation, and telecommunications infrastructure.
The town of Middlebury has so much going for it — a sweet downtown, a tight historic village, a hospital, municipal water and sewer, a college, proximity to the mountains and the lakes, an industrial park, and so much more. We are also challenged by high taxes, near-zero residential vacancies, and — I’m sorry to say — a bureaucracy that is slow to lead us to new solutions. That we would be discussing a $10 million renovation bond for our municipal library after just recently taking on taxpayer-funded debt for a new bridge, a new police station, new fire stations, new Town Hall, and major recreational infrastructure shows where our priorities lie. The town has done a remarkable job of making Middlebury comfortable for those who have jobs, have an education, have housing, have kids in school. But what about the rest of the folks living in town?
So, what could the town of Middlebury do to enhance its “economic health?”
We need substantially more affordable housing in Middlebury and Addison County. A coalition of local groups has been working hard on solutions, but as a town, we could do more. We could re-zone undevelopable areas of our industrial park to permit workforce housing. We could absorb the cost of community infrastructure like roads, water, sewer and storm water for affordable housing in our general tax base, recovering our investment through future tax revenue. We could make affordable housing a real priority — perhaps waiting on the library.
We are fortunate to have Addison County Transportation Resources (ACTR) in the county. Let’s build bus shelters, let’s make it easier to walk to the bus, let’s make it easier to walk to work, let’s install more lighted pedestrian crossings (like Vergennes is doing). And, let’s build a sidewalk on Exchange Street (the businesses on the street have already agreed to pay for it). Imagine a town where you can walk or bike safely to work, to school, to shopping.
And, finally, let’s invest in fiber optic broadband. The fiber already comes to Middlebury and the college. Let’s work with developers to extend fiber to our downtown, village, and industrial park.
I strongly believe that most of us simply want a good job close to home. We can bring home and job together with affordable housing, safe pedestrian travel, and high-speed internet.
Paul Ralston
Vermont Coffee Company

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