Opposition to Putney affordable housing project is not about opposition to affordable housing

PUTNEY — I thank and applaud Laura Campbell for all of the time and energy she has given to opposing the proposed housing project in Putney. She and those who have helped and supported her in this effort deserve a lot of credit for stepping up and showing up to meet all of the complex challenges of this important issue.

It is important because it will change Putney in ways that many of its residents will have to live with for years to come.

Let's be clear about one thing: The opposition to this project is not, as some would have you believe, about opposition to affordable housing. I don't know anyone who is against affordable housing. Who in their right mind would be against affordable housing in this day and age?

This is primarily opposition to the site of this proposed building project, which for so many reasons is - well, to put it bluntly - just plain stupid.

Those who argue for this project float various reasons why the site makes sense. But whenever I read their reasons - and there seem to be very few - they just don't seem to hold water.

They mention transportation for people who don't have cars and the proximity to the bus line. But as Julie Tamler pointed out in her letter ["Affordable housing needs to recognize what tenants will need," July 26], the bus is not that convenient. It stops a couple of times in the morning en route to Brattleboro, but if you don't happen to catch the last of those few trips back in the morning, you're basically stranded in Brattleboro for several hours.

And all of this access to shopping in Putney. Well, if you want to do all of your shopping at the Putney Co-op and the Putney General Store, that might work. I love these stores as much as anyone here in Putney, but I think it might be unrealistic to think that people are going to be entirely reliant on them.

And then there's the argument that Putney businesses are in desperate need of local workers. The paper mill seems to always be hiring, but that's not unusual for a factory in any town. But in downtown Putney, aside from the General Store, The Putney Diner, and The Gleanery, I don't really see many businesses, especially ones that look like they're in need of help. Years ago, Putney had many more little shops and businesses downtown. But now it looks like those few buildings have been purchased and renovated by people who, to date, don't appear to be opening for commerce.

During the many months of this controversy, other viable alternative sites in Putney have been suggested for affordable housing. Yet these options have never been discussed or even seriously considered.

It has been pointed out that Putney has stepped up and provided a great deal of affordable housing per capita. And since this project was proposed, many new units, either completed or under construction, have been added to that number in existing residences.

So it raises the question: Where are the other small towns in the vicinity of Brattleboro in regard to providing affordable housing? But OK, if it has to be in Putney, why aren't these other viable sites not considered? It makes one wonder: Could it be that these other options would not provide a small group of people a large amount of money? It's just a question.

To be honest, I was not wanting to write another letter about this issue. Its not easy to speak your mind about an issue like housing without being misunderstood and, in some cases, vilified.

In my last letter, I was compelled to support those with concerns about the issue of increased crime rates that have occurred in the neighborhoods and on the premises of several of WWHT properties. I was compelled because those who expressed concerns were repeatedly shamed in an effort to silence them.

My intention was not to suggest that people who live in affordable housing are all criminals. That would be absurd. Rather, I intended to point out a pattern that seems to be connected with many of WWHT buildings and that these incidents have been well documented over the last several years. Nobody is making this stuff up.

As I recall, when this project was being proposed, an architect's rendition appeared in the paper. I remember that it was a handful of small duplexes scattered through the field and across the road. Though it generated opposition even at that early stage, at least it was somewhat palatable in that it made an effort to be less intrusive to the surrounding environment.

However, that initial design has changed drastically. Perhaps to accommodate more units, it has turned into two big buildings on a relatively small space; the only green space in downtown Putney. And across the street, though it doesn't seem to abut the Beatrice Aiken Wildlife Preserve, the proposed parking area for these buildings comes mighty close. I never would have believed that Putney would "pave paradise and put up a parking lot." But apparently, I was wrong.

Two state representatives, one of whom represents Putney, referred to those who oppose this building project as NIMBYs, and one of them also used the word "nasty" to describe those with concerns. So once again, I am compelled to respond.

The first thing I'd like to say to these representatives is that is easy for you to say. Because these buildings are, in fact, not going up in your backyard. I'm happy for both of you that you have, within walking distance of your homes, some nice, pastoral areas and access to nature and wildlife that you can enjoy. How very fortunate. However, I guess those of us who live in downtown Putney are not to be afforded this same opportunity.

I submit this letter at the risk of being referred to as a nasty NIMBY. But the last I checked, those of us who are in opposition to this proposed building project are also your constituents - at least for now.

And I am frankly appalled and embarrassed that members of the Democratic Party repeatedly stoop to using politically correct rhetoric to shame and silence those who might disagree with them. It's not a good look. And it is not what I grew up knowing the Democratic Party to be.

This Voices Letters from readers was submitted to The Commons.

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