An architect’s drawing of the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust’s proposed housing project in Putney.
An architect’s drawing of the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust’s proposed housing project in Putney.

The confusion is understandable

The town website describes the Putney Selectboard as the final decision-making authority for the town. It seemed obvious that the board would have the power to reverse a DRB decision upon hearing reasonable arguments from the community.

PUTNEY — As former appellant on cases 22-ENV-0003 and 23-AP-080, I write to honor all the courageous, honest people who took a stand and signed a petition to the Putney Selectboard to withdraw approval of Windham & Windsor Housing Trust's permit for construction of 25 units of mixed-income housing, in two massive buildings, accompanied by a 25 space parking lot, south of the Community Garden, on 0.91 acres east of Alice Holway Drive.

Between Aug. 11, when the petition began circulating, and the Aug. 23 Selectboard meeting, where Putney Selectboard Chair Aileen Chute disallowed its being read aloud, well over 100 interested persons - over 5% of registered voters, including myself - stepped up to sign the petition, placing their faith in our Selectboard as it is introduced and described on the town website. Additional signatures await filing with the town clerk.

In paragraph 2 of her statement to the Selectboard and attending citizens, Chute informed a surprised audience that "the Selectboard does not have the authority to rescind zoning permits and, consequently, we cannot consider this petition."

She offered support for her conclusion from Town Attorney Lawrence G. Slason, who, she says, "has confirmed this." The statute is relevant to the current situation, stating in no uncertain terms, "Interested persons [such as Putney residents signing a petition] affected shall not thereafter contest, either directly or indirectly" municipal panels' decisions, like those of the Development Review Board and the Selectboard.

However, the Putney town website conveys a different message.

"The Select Board is the final decision making authority for the Town of Putney. This three [sic] member Board provides general supervision and control over town; enacts ordinances, regulations, and policies; oversees town property and personnel; prepares, presents and manages budget; and oversees roads, including laying out, discontinuing, reclassifying roads, and reviews the biweekly financials of the municipality. The Legislative Body acts as local Town Agent(s), liquor control commission, and water/sewer commission."

If Putney Selectboard were indeed the final decision-making authority for the town in the areas of its warrant listed above, it seemed to me prior to reading the relevant state law that board would have the power to change its mind upon hearing reasonable arguments from the community in opposition to authorization - authorization I learned only after signing the petition was not the Selectboard's to give - since all responsibilities of the Selectboard warrant, as presented at the website, would be directly impacted by WWHT's projections.

The confusion is understandable, I think.

The final decision-making authority, I now learn, is Putney Development Review Board's alone. Our DRB granted WWHT approval on March 9, 2022 while the Selectboard met and followed an agenda on which the WWHT application did not appear.

* * *

In response to soil testing in September 2021, WWHT had had to revise its original project designs quickly and radically prior to gaining DRB approval.

Up until that point, initial plans, which WWHT energetically promoted from 2019, called for 10 to 12 units in five or six duplexes on 0.91 acres east of Alice Holway Drive. This was fewer than half the number of units that WWHT ultimately proposed for the lot in question.

A far more spacious initial project design welcomed a gazebo at the highest point of the 0.91 acres; however, that complementary feature has disappeared from the approved plan along with the duplexes. There was no longer any room for it.

The path to Putney DRB's approval of WWHT's permit application on March 9, 2022 was subject to several procedural irregularities, to which the petition attests.

The upshot is that the permit application for the project effectively contradicts the 2015 Town Plan with respect to preliminary planning, zoning regulations, and subdivision regulations.

It puts prospective tenants' safety and peaceful enjoyment of the premises at serious risk in an excessively cramped interpersonal environment surrounded by three busy thoroughfares.

It also impinges on the Putney Community Garden to a degree the initial plans did not.

And it sacrifices the last open green space available for the health and recreation of the Putney community.

My March 1, 2022 letter to Peter Paggi, WWHT real estate development director; Pip Banister, the DRB and Planning Commission chair; and Karen Astley, the town manager, followed the one-and-only Covid-era Feb. 15, 2022 hearing on WWHT's application, which many residents of Putney could not access. The letter predated the DRB's March 9, 2022 vote to approve WWHT's application.

I received no reply to my letter. Appeals were rejected by Vermont Environmental and Supreme Courts. The cases are closed.

I signed the petition because it addresses points raised in the appeals - points that Putney's municipal panels and, in their approvals, and Vermont Environmental and Vermont Supreme Courts in their denials, did not address.

Laura Campbell was the appellant in two cases contesting the town of Putney granting permission to the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust to create a multi-unit housing project downtown.

This Voices Response was submitted to The Commons.