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The Commons
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Facebook/Town of Athens

Voices / Viewpoint

It wasn't zoning

Was the rejection of the town plan in Athens for the second time a Vermonter-vs.-flatlander issue?

Sandi Capponcelli has lived in Vermont for almost 40 years and serves or has served on the school board, as a lister, in the parent-teacher group, as assistant town clerk, on the Planning Commission, as the town health officer, and in the Historical Society. She spearheaded the renovation of the Athens town office.

Originally published in The Commons issue #415 (Wednesday, July 5, 2017). This story appeared on page D2.



A town plan is a vision for the town for the next five, 10, or 20 years.

Once again, the people have spoken, and I really wonder if those 44 who just decided the town plan’s fate have any idea what they really voted against.

I would say most them did not even read the town plan, although it was readily available in hard copy and electronically. Seem most think “town plan” is equivalent to “zoning,” which it is not.

Voting against a town plan will hurt our town in the long run, but people don’t seem to care about the future of Athens. They just care about the here and now.

We must hope and pray that there is never another Tropical Storm Irene to hit our state and our town, because there is a very good chance without a town plan in place that we will not receive either state or federal recovery money. That means our taxes will go up.

Worried about zoning? How about being worried about not being able to pay your property taxes because they are so high?

Without a town plan, our voice as a town will be very small in any situations that trigger Act 250. We would have had a louder and stronger voice if the plan had passed.

* * *

Our town prides itself in its independence. Did the founders of our town in 1780 think that we would go through so many changes? Probably not. From a population of approximately 440 residents in 1790 to a low of less than 125 residents in 1920, this town has struggled to maintain its identity in an ever-changing world. In the 2010 census, our population once again reached 440 residents.

It is sad to say that due to this vote, our identity and our voice in how we want our town to grow (because it will grow, as the past few years have proven) has been quelled by those who did not come to the Town Planning Commission meetings or the open forums, or who did not read the town plan. It is disappointing and discouraging.

I have been called a flatlander, an outsider, and other unpleasant names because of my interest in town politics and our town in general. If you want to get to the nitty gritty of it all, my roots in Vermont, in Athens, go as deep as many of the “Vermonters” (i.e., those born in Vermont) who live in our town. I recently found a connection with a family buried in the Athens West Cemetery (the family dates back to the 1770s). I have fought to bring this town into the 21st century while trying to save its history and its beauty.

There are very few “Vermonters” in our town who fill the necessary positions to keep our town running and viable. Yes, it is we flatlanders and outsiders who get voted into office and try our damnedest to keep this town going. Why? Not because we were born here, but because we chose to live here.

I have worked, raised my kids, and so much more, yet I still found time to hold office in this town or to volunteer. So don’t ever tell me that you can’t do it because you are too busy.

* * *

I challenge those residents who have stood back and let us flatlanders and a few “Vermonters” do the work to step up to the plate. We had two people last year retire after serving this town — in one case, since the 1960s and, in the other, for more than 20 years.

Our population in our local government isn’t getting any younger. I am angry, and I am tired. This will be my last term as lister, so if you want that job, I am up for re-election in 2019. I will also be resigning as assistant town clerk at that time.

I have already tried to resign from the Town Planning Commission but was asked to hold out for just a bit longer, but I think someone else needs to fill that position and maybe give this whole town plan a third try. I was in it for two attempts, but I will not do three.

You have to love your town, feel a responsibility to it, and think about the future generations of people who will want to live here. The town plan wasn’t just for here and now. It wasn’t zoning. It was to maintain and keep our town for the future.

I am truly sorry that more voters do not see that and do not understand that.

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