Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Upcoming election pivotal for Vergennes region

Unlike Las Vegas, what happens in Vergennes does not stay in Vergennes.
I am not a resident of Vergennes but I might as well be. I live in Ferrisburgh. Like many in the neighboring towns of Panton, Addison and Waltham, Vergennes is our downtown. It is our gravitational center. Our children go to school there. We shop there. We dine there. We work there. We recreate there, and we interact and gather there with one another as a larger community. So it has been with great disappointment that we have all watched the events of the summer unfold in Vergennes.
It has been particularly frustrating for myself and a group of Ferrisburgh and Vergennes elected officials and volunteers who had come together to begin taking action to tackle our declining population and dwindling area economic opportunities. There was recognition amongst the group that Ferrisburgh was land-rich and ripe for well-planned development around the border of the two municipalities that would be of benefit both as well as the surrounding area. The goal was smart growth to protect our quality of life and avoid the pitfalls of development elsewhere while expanding opportunities for all.
Early in the spring and summer plans were under way between the two municipalities and regional officials to work together on making zoning adjustments that would help attract more mixed housing to the area as well as connect it to the downtown with walking and bike paths. Considerations were being made for how best to use the land around the newly erected train station that would connect Vergennes to New York City while acting as a “gateway to Vergennes” for not only train riders but commuters along Route 7.
There were plans being hatched to market Vergennes to those in Vermont and elsewhere looking for a home and a welcoming community to raise their families. State officials welcomed the cooperation and were poised to potentially throw millions behind improving the wastewater treatment plant, internet access, and a proposed transport corridor between Ferrisburgh and Vergennes that would unlock stranded land for residential and commercial development that could provide further opportunity for area residents as well as provide an alternate route for semi-truck traffic through downtown Vergennes. The two groups were even coming together to address long-disputed boundary issues that would help pave the way for this mutual beneficial coordinated development between Vergennes and Ferrisburgh.
Although none of these ideas were a given to become a reality, the conversations and actions between the two groups held great promise to begin solving our declining school enrollment, lack of affordable housing, and rising taxes. Despite the ravages of COVID-19 for the country, with low infections and cooperation, things appeared to be on the up and up for the greater Vergennes area, and that we could emerge from the COVID crisis a stronger community.
Then it all came screeching to a halt. As we all know, the Mayor resigned in what could be best described as bizarre circumstances, the City Council went up in smoke as a result of the controversial events around the Mayor’s departure, and the police department became caught up in a controversy involving race and intimidation. News articles about the dysfunction appeared both locally and in national news media outlets.
Friends and family from afar who had visited us and spent time in downtown Vergennes with us, after hearing the news called and emailed asking what the heck was going on in Vergennes. A neighbor’s whose house was under contract had his buyers back out also having heard of the wackiness in the national news, and not wanting to live in a community where all were not thought to be welcomed. The group that had come together for the betterment of all in the area went on hiatus hoping for a functioning Vergennes City Council to emerge.
Now we wait anxiously for the Sept. 22 special election to see how the area’s shared future might proceed. The election appears from the outside to be a battle between one side looking for forward-thinking growth while the other prefers things to remain as they are. But the reality is the only thing that is constant in life besides death is change. Each day our lives and towns change. People are born. Others die. People buy homes, and some move away. Jobs are posted. Buildings are erected. Classes graduate. The list goes on and on. Change is constant.
The real question is whether Vergennes wants a community with greater access to affordable housing and expanded job opportunities for all, and the resulting lower taxes and rising school enrollments that this would inevitably bring. Or it wants to cling to the idea that everything is fine just how it is.
This however should not be an election about us versus them as much as national parties fueled by social media would want you to believe. It is an election about people coming together to help shape the soul and future of our shared community in Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Waltham, Panton and Addison. And that is what makes this election special.
I look forward to the day when the people of Vergennes and the neighboring towns can come back together to work on that shared future.
Richard Morin
North Ferrisburgh

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