PUTNEY — I was delighted to see that Putney's Development Review Board approved the Windham and Windsor Housing Trust's project for 25 apartments on Alice Holway Drive in the village.
I was very disappointed to learn that opponents of the project are planning to appeal the DRB's decision, and I sincerely hope they will withdraw their appeal. We Putney taxpayers will have to pay a lawyer to defend the board's approval, which was unanimous with one abstention.
After reviewing the application for the project, which ran to 50 pages and covered everything from parking to lighting to landscaping to where dumpsters will be placed, the DRB decided that the plan met all the town's requirements for a Planned Unit Development within a designated Neighborhood Development Area in the Village District.
The new construction preserves some green space in the lot opposite the Putney Food Co-op. The application mentions the applicant's intention to sell about an acre of the parcel to Green Commons of Vermont, an organization associated with developing the community gardens and farmers' market.
All of Vermont needs housing, southern Vermont needs housing, and Putney needs housing. Bulletin boards and social media are full of desperate messages from teachers, nurses, artisans, and returning residents seeking housing. Employers can't find help, because employees can't find housing.
The parcel on Alice Holway Drive is one of the most valuable in the entire town, positioned close to both the northbound and southbound exit of the interstate, and it is zoned commercial; it could accommodate a chain convenience store, complete with drive-thru coffee and fast food, greeting travelers at the gateway to the village. Instead, it will provide desperately needed housing.
The 25 units of mixed-income apartments won't solve the housing crisis in Windham County, but they can help. And new residents will have easy access to groceries, banks, the library, the post office, and public transportation - everything a village should provide.
Opponents - “residents and friends of Putney,” as they call themselves - are bemoaning the loss of the undeveloped property where the new housing will be built, and they have circulated a petition, asking the owners not to sell the parcel to the Housing Trust.
They hope it can be sold to an organization called Earthseed Commons Org, which will preserve it as green space and has pledged to work toward creating other models of affordable housing.
Of course, anyone will welcome all new ideas and energy focused on providing more housing in the future, but these carefully planned 25 units are more than just an idea: after three years of planning and preparation, construction can start this fall.
Opponents of the project have said that they want to keep Putney the way it was - but like every other Vermont town and village, our town is evolving. Once home to a variety of farms, it has become a bedroom community, and it risks becoming an enclave for the wealthy, with skyrocketing house prices that young families can't afford. Its many tax-exempt educational institutions mean that the town's tax base is small and its tax rates are high.
The Windham and Windsor project will bring new residents to an aging population in the town. It will pay taxes to add to the tax base and help offset increased demands on town services. I hope that we will welcome new families with children, new workers - new neighbors - to Putney.