Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Addison Town Hall repair has been a saga

All those who voted last November on the bond for the Addison Town Hall renovation might be wondering what’s happening. Here’s an attempt at an update.

The majority of the vote (55%) was for the bond, with 45% against.

The Resolution of Necessity, ratified by the selectboard in Sept. 2022, identified the bond to be for “certain capital improvements and repairs.” That phrase was completely defined by the bond proposal, circulated to all households in the town: “The proposal is for the Town of Addison to raise $2,068,019* by bond to be used to restore the existing Town Hall Building for present day use as a town clerk’s office, committee workspace, and town community meeting space.”

*Subject to decrease pending successful grant funding

Furthermore, the people of the town had been invited to a number of open days at which they could view the plans and were encouraged to ask questions and pass comments.

Those plans included an addition to the current footprint, deemed necessary to accommodate an elevator and fire stairs, requirements for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for public buildings. That addition does not meet the 20’ setback required by the town of Addison’s zoning regulations, whichever side of the building to which it’s added. So, the only way for this redevelopment to take place is for a variance to be granted. The state of Vermont now encourages towns to look favorably on variances needed for ADA compliance. This wasn’t a consideration when the town hall was built.

The town body that has the authority to decide on such a variance is the Development Review Board (DRB). At the Feb. 7 selectboard meeting, the chair made it clear that only the selectboard has the authority to submit an application to the DRB for a variance.

As yet, about five months after the vote, no such application has been made.

A little history might add some perspective. The town hall committee was formed about 15 years ago by permission of the selectboard. The committee’s mission was to study renovation of the town hall, town offices being the use most likely to attract funding. Prior to recent architectural plans, there have been two significant phases of development.

The first was a subdivision of land, since the town hall had previously belonged to the church. The town took possession of the town hall, together with the land on which it sits, in exchange for a later, no-cost connection of the church to a planned wastewater system. Since there is less than 40’ between the town hall and the church, not enough for 20’ setback on each side of the dividing line, a variance was required for this subdivision to occur. The DRB issued this variance.

The second was the wastewater system, sufficient to service not only the town hall but also the church, the fire department and the current town clerk’s office. A few years ago, the town approved a bond for about $500K for this system, which has now been installed.

Back to the present — the selectboard recently appointed a facilities committee to look into the future of the whole area, including the former school. To my mind, it is important to establish whether retaking possession of the school building would be a benefit for the town (it stands on about six prime acres) or a financial liability (if, for instance, remediation of asbestos or PCBs were necessary). Some selectboard members have voiced a preference (Feb. 7 meeting) that the town offices be relocated to the former school. If the facilities committee reaches a recommendation regarding the location of the future town offices, there are only two possibilities: either in the redeveloped town hall, or at another site. If it’s the latter, any action to follow through on this would effectively override last November’s vote. I have pointed this out to the selectboard twice, but their replies have not addressed this specific issue. Similarly, they have not provided any definitive answers to my requests for an explanation of the apparent delay in moving the town hall project to the next stage.

This brings you up to date, to the best of my knowledge. 

Peter Macfarlane

Addison

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