Selectboard Meeting Notes – The Final Zoom, Financing, and Web Site Information Gathering

Brattleboro Selectboard june 15 21

The Brattleboro Selectboard held their final Zoom meeting Tuesday night. Their next meeting, July 6, will be in person (with a hybrid mix) at the Municipal Center in the Selectboard Meeting Room. The Governor says it must be so.

Water shutoff will resume, in November. The board also approved of a financing plan for the water treatment plant on quite favorable financial terms, Tri-Park finances were re-financed, a process for gathering information for a new town website was presented, and committee members were appointed.

Comments | 9

  • Preliminaries

    Chair Liz McLoughlin had no remarks.

    Town manager had no remarks. He apologized for spotty internet service, though.

    Daniel Quipp said Traffic Safety Committee is not meeting this week. We aren’t done with vaccination… there are a number of walk in clinics over the next few days… at West Brattleboro Fire Station, Green Street School, at BMH, at Green Street again, at Outer Limits Health Club, at Rent A Center on Canal Street, and BMH again. All this is on the health Vermont website… look for walk-in clinics. The info changes regularly and new clinics are added all the time. I encourage and implore you to get a vaccination.

    Tim Wessel – acknowledge and celebrate our Governor lifting things and acknowledge our victories and we’re moving forward. Have patience with Town Staff ramping back up – we have to do in person meetings whether we are ready or not. It might take a while, but yea! Yea! Vermont.

  • Consent agenda

    A. Monthly Financial Report – FY21 Through May

    B. Paving Project at Living Memorial Park – Bid Award

    C. Purchase of Propane – Bid Award

    D. FY22 Salary Increase for Non-Union Employees

    E. Downtown Transportation Grant for Depot Street Project – Accept and Appropriate


  • Water and Sewer: COVID-19 Matters – Resumption of Water Shut-Offs for Delinquent Accounts

    Town Manager Peter Elwell – tonight we are asking you to consider giving notice of water billing changes two cycles from now. The numbers are in the memo of June 10. We share the concern you have expressed that the impacts of COVID -19 have been differential and some have been severely impacted. I’m not an expert in programs to help people pay these bills but they are available. I have a stronger, clearer idea of the group of accounts and some chronically fall behind, even in good times. We get payment when shutoffs are imminent. We’ve had a long standing practice of setting up payment plans, but the longer we take, the harder it will be to catch up. It may sound un-compassionate, but there needs to be a time when the moratorium ends, so we say declare it now that after November, people will be subject to shutoff. And we’ll have info on getting help paying. But we want to send this out with the next set of bills.

    Liz – this would be a prompt for people to reach out for help.

    Elwell – yes, either get help with assistance or set up a payment plan with us to get back on top of it.

    Daniel – I think this is a reasonable thing to do. For the last several years I’ve done work with electricity notices, and shut off notices are spurs to action. Last year, shut off notices were suspended, and are until the end of this month. So, the town waiting until November will happen months after other notices are issues, so we are being very considerate of challenges to pay. The moratorium in place has left people with bigger bills than otherwise. There are two programs to help with utilities – one for renters and one from Windham & Windsor Housing – they have funds. If there is a still an issue, reach out to SEVCA. I also learned that other municipalities didn’t do this… many don’t have a municipal water system, but those that do didn’t issue a moratorium. Many never started one, so it is ok for us to end ours in two bill cycles. If anyone is anxious, reach out sooner that later.

    Tim – thanks, I think this is the time to do this. It’s five months away. It’s the way to alert people now. Is there anyway to have an insert that has resources on it?

    Elwell – that’s the intent. We want to put info into the bills to be clear about the change and the ways people can get assistance in getting caught up.


  • Water and Sewer: Financing for Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility Replacement Project

    Patrick Moreland – how are you? We’ve got some good news for the board and public. The financing opportunities for this. We have an aging water treatment facility, more than 10 years past its useable life, and we talked about it at RTM, and there was a vote to go ahead. We were given authorization to borrow put to $12.5 million at 5% interest. We though we might get better than this. We have a much clearer idea of what it will cost, too… $14.2 million. The great news is on the financing. These types of projects… we were given an offer of a loan for $5.9 million for design and construction at 0% interest. The really nice thing is that this project, each year, we’ll get more of these at 0%… there is no cost to borrow the funds to make this happen. In addition, we now know the grant – we now owe $1.7 million to repay it. Each year we need additional funds, there is potential for subsidy. We don’t know what that will be, but, with certainty, we can absolutely assure you we won’t need the $12.5 million. $8.2 million is left, but we have the subsidy, and the interest rate is zero. Even if the future borrowing doesn’t get more subsidy, we’ll do better than expected. But we expect more subsidy. One final thing – the loan agreement has been drafted by the stated, and fully reviewed.

    Liz – Approximately 70% grant – no one can argue with that.

    Ian Goodnow – great news, thanks for explaining it. Do you think the grant was large due to COVID?

    Patrick – that is reasonable. The state is good at putting federal funds to good use. That very likely stems from federal funds but couldn’t say for sure.

    Daniel – the other year we set the rates for water and were – is this lower borrowing mean lower rates based on this?

    Patrick – it is a five year period, we could take a look. When we put those recommendations together we assumed a larger payment. This is fortuitous and welcome – you can make an adjustment to rates.

    loan agreement approved

  • Water and Sewer: Refinancing of Debt for Tri-Park Water+Sewer Improvements

    Patrick – so, Tri-Park. The folks that own and manage it have been doing a master plan for sustainability and Sue Fillion has been engaged throughout. The Town helps the process move forward. One thing they identified is they have more debt than they need and need to free up some cash. They are upfront about it and the state knows about it. A plan was hatched to assist Tri-Park. Brattleboro is involved because the Town floated a bond to do the water and sewer improvements there, and they had improvements that needed financing and the town secured financing. Each year there is an article for the Town to raise some money from Mountain Home to generate the loan payment revenue, and the Town passes it on to the state. We’re in the middle. The nice thing is the state has offered a significant restructuring to their debt for three loans – overall impact is debt forgiveness for over $300k in loan forgiveness. The second thing is each loan is having a term extended by ten years, which will lower the amount owed each year, which will free up about $100k for other needs. It will improve cash flow. This means that the number – $236k we collect each year, will go down to $135k. It’s a win-win. Tri-Park is excited, the state is excited. What needed to happen is we needed to consult with out bond consul. He had to offer an option on the bond vote, and he supports this. We have a series of document for you to approve tonight, fully reviewed by all.

    Liz – thanks. I recall several meetings ago that we heard from Tri-Park and understood how important it is to our community. What’s good for Tri-Park is good for the town. We were all looking for ways to help. This is good.

    Jessica Gelter – always thrilling to see something go from master plan to reality. Glad this is part of the bigger picture, and it supports privately owned low income housing.

    Ian – have info on monthly payments?

    Patrick – Tri-Park is our one customer. How they divide it is up to them. (Woof! comments Patrick’s dog.)

    Daniel – I appreciate the way you presented it. It was hard to understand when I read it. I like to hear these outcomes. As pointed out – this is a significant chunck of Brattleboro populace.


  • COVID-19 Matters

    Liz – hybrid meetings? The governor clarified that for us…

    Elwell – this will be quick. The state of emergency express at 12 midnight tonight. We were fortunate for this meeting, but other meeting warnings have to change to be in-person meetings. “A physical location” – the location can’t be electronic. So, the next meeting will be on July 6th and that meeting will be back at the Municipal Center, and the public is welcome. Patrick and BCTV has been working on a Zoom component, so the board and I and some staff and any public that want to be there will be there and this format will be available for those who want to come in this way. It will be bumpy, so give us time as we get the new system going. The primary challenge will be for the chair, and in calling on people. It will become the new way, but it will take time. It was also mentioned that this will effect other boards and committees in town, starting immediately. Every other appointed body will now be in a physical location and those entities will decide for themselves whether they have a hybrid arrangement. For small committees it will be cumbersome and costly, but for bigger boards like selectboard.

    Liz – I’m up for the challenge and appreciate everyone’s support. The only constant with COVID is change.

    Ian – thanks Patrick and BCTV for working on getting the hybrid model set up. It is critical. People participated in a way they hadn’t done before. I’m optimistic for the future. It will be bumpy but Liz will do well with it.

    Daniel – yes, thanks and the interpreters for the future and all that went before. The amount of work to make these meetings happen, and thanks to the town staff. We just have to turn up. For it to happen takes people and work and labor that is not observed my most. Nolan. Ray. It bears thanking. The media and continued presence in these meetings, thanks to those folks for watchfulness.

    Tim – I never got to be a normal in-person chair. I’m jealous. We’ll figure it out.

    Liz – appropriate for the videographer to be a zoom Chair.

    Tim – I just need to go buy some pants…

    Liz – we all have to wrestle with the fact of a physical location.

    Gary Stroud – we are back – it is showtime. The question, since the town is open, a lot happens at the library – can we meet there as well?

    Elwell – we’ll be going over the finer details of the full re-opening. The library is more and more open. next monday we’ll open the municipal center. We’ll have some minimal precautions. More to say at the end of the week. This Friday night be the last COVID update. We need to keep being smart, and cautious, and strains that can cause surges, so we’ll hope that doesn’t happen. Now things are getting better. This final update will have details of the complete re-opening. No limit on capacity in public spaces anymore.

    Gary – good news. Happy and can’t wait to see it happen.

    Liz – so, our next regular meeting is July 6th and in person and a hybrid meeting.

  • Proposed Amendments to Land Use Regulations – First Public Hearing

    Sue Fillion – thanks for having me. We have some Planning Commisioners here as well. We are here for zoning amendment first public hearing. Land Use Regulations – the planning commission held their meeting, and now you hold two hearings. I’ll share my screen.

    Sue – Our Land use regulations were written 5.5 years ago, and we have some amendments to propose. Some are changes to state and federal law, some were for DRB, some housing changes, some staff suggestions, and make interim zoning permanent changes at this time. The amendments we have to part one come from state law. Changing words from “accepted” to “required” and group homes are now permitted homes. These two amendments are to become compliant with state statute. In part 2, it is our zoning districts. We would like higher density housing more permanent. The purpose is to improve housing access in areas with water and sewer service. The map shows the zoning districts. In residential neighborhoods, we want to make three, four and five unit buildings permitted for existing buildings, and conditional for new buildings. Other changes – we found a service center zoning district on Canal Street and we want to fix that. Our mixed use zoning district – Canal to Birge – currently we have a 4k max footprint, we now think 6k would allow for more growth. There could be larger buildings in that zoning district. Currently parking lots are allowed – Putney Rd from Staples up to north of roundabout – we want to make parking as conditional uses… so we just aren’t creating parking lots. And, to add a rooming or boarding house as conditional in residential areas.

    Sue – then there are a series of changes for Part 3 – the development standards that apply. There are a series of sign changes – we have sign zones and different sizes. We want to do mixed use as sign zone 1. Wakable areas with sidewalks. By moving the mixed use areas into that zone we’d have better sized signs for the walking public. We want to permit vertical blade signs, and clarify where portable signs may be located if a business is down tan alley – Insight is a good example… they are in the back. Now, they can’t have a sign out on the sidewalk because it is 12′ away – we’ll allow them now if not obstructing the way. There was a federal case saying municipalities can’t regulate signs based on content. We create temporary signs within certain sizes – as long as it isn’t more than 6 sq ft and not illuminated – that’s how we’d treat all noncommercial signs to comply. Distinctive signs, like Lawton’s Dry Cleaners – it wouldn’t be allowed today. DRB wanted a tool to allow for iconic signs. This would have some review criteria, but a special application and process for approving them. Under Campgrounds – we want to allow year round camping in camp grounds if water and waste are taken care of. Single room occupancies have some standards – too prescriptive about common space. We need housing – we want to make sure of some things, but make it simpler. And we wanted to clarify standards for attached housing. Haven’t had any, but we want to be clear about setbacks and sizes. Also, how attached garages could be. Currently they have to be 16 feet from building frontline. Seemed too much. At or behind the building frontline is what we propose. We will also relax design regs for cottage clusters, sheds, inn parking, mini-warehouse parking, and taller retaining walls in industrial areas.

    Sue – in two areas we are tightening things – well, three. The first is parking lot repaving. We want to require a permit for that, to deal with stormwater issues on site. Large commercial areas have been redone and we’d like to require a permit so we get compliance in other areas. If they rest ripe or modify in any way they’d need a permit. WE also currently have a stormwater exemption if they don’t increase impervious surfaces… in 80’s and 90s’ you’d run it off into town systems. Now we want to treat as much as possible onsite and get into the ground. have less pain and more landscaping. Stormwater is an area that anything we can do is important to do. We want to get rid of exemptions and get people to bring it into compliance. And last, we have a sign expedition for non-conforming signs – if you are changing it- you could do it without getting into compliance. We think any time it is changing is the time to bring it into compliance. And finally, in Part 4, we list the review criteria for site plans. Now, energy conservation is only conditional and we’d like to make it a regular check. That’s an overview…

    Liz – thanks – a few comments. It’s great. It shows that the planning process is working properly – after things are adopted, there are amendments and these are the things you’d expect. I applaud you and your staff for identifying these and I think they are wonderful.

    Ian – yeah, uh, one quick question. On the residential zoning neighborhood for 3, 4, and 5 units… so, if I had a 4 unit but could make it a 5 unit…

    Sue – that’s renovating existing, not new.

    Liz – this helped get new housing to Brattleboro.

    Sue – there was an article on our interim bylaw – we had 22 new housing units created as a result in the first 6 months. Some of it was because of the VT rehousing recovery program funded by CARES for landlords – and $30k grants to property owners. We hope that continues.

    Tim – I hate the vertical blade signs. I’m not a big fan of the tiny home thing. It is cute and quaint. The cottage cluster proposes.. that’s not downtown is it?

    Sue – in different parts of the town – in West B village, in rural residential…. the cottage cluster

    Tim – there are places that would be more appropriate than others.

    Sue – residential and rural residential – the issues were with uniformity, and design standards. It’s juts not working. These are some changes. There will be more in a year or so.

    Tim – I appreciate all the work you and the commissions are doing, and the work for Tri-Park. My last question – I recently visited people in Keene who live in large apartment buildings – each has 24 units. That’s my dream for Brattleboro. There are site limitations, but Putney Rd – what a great place to stack up some great apartment dwellings tree. What else can we do?

    Sue – I’ve spoken with WRC – we need a look book – a way Putney Rd could look – apartments, garden apartments, or infill with housing. We’ve been thinking we need a patter book to help visualize.

    Liz – there is a lot of housing beyond Putney Rd.

    Tim – sounds like a visioning step after we get housing data.

    Jessica – thanks so much, I’m excited to see the planning process come to fruition. If I was hearing and reading correctly, it seems like these changes will make rooming and boarding houses, single occupancy, tiny houses.. all easier to build in Brattleboro?

    Sue – we think so.

    Jessica – and that’s the way these regs can impact housing availability and affordability?

    Sue – yes, from the regulatory side.

    Jessica – and good to see temporary change made a difference and is now permanent. Why the line around 5 unit conditional? How did you draw that line and why?

    Sue – good question. Trying tor call… last summer. There are enough other controls about how buildings fit into a neighborhood. Maybe parking… there are the core neighborhoods around downtown, then more subdivisions. A 5 unit building could be different in a neighborhood of single family. Just a wide variety on residential neighborhoods.

    Jessica – could you explain why you are making parking lots harder to build? What does that do?

    Sue – Tom?

    Tom Mosakowski – it was conditional… because it is parking lots and structures, if our overall goal is to reduce surface area of parking, and we could review, then we could talk about parking structures…

    Sue – parking lots are a low value land use. There is nothing taxable – a wide expanse of pavement that causes stormwater – when it could be more productive. There are parking lots downtown, but we aren’t building new ones. A commuter lot is useful, but don’t want wide parking lots and garages for no reason on Putney Rd.

    Tim – I love the answers. We have to challenge the assumptions about parking. Walking a few extra steps for the able bodied isn’t a bad thing. Not everyone has cars and cars aren’t the only important thing to think about.

    Tom -when we were talking about the interim zoning bylaw – one spark that lit that =in us was a Brattleboro landlord who said they could get money but ran into trouble with regs. Run your plans by us and we can see if it can be accommodated.

    Ian – one other thing. One goal we set was a stormwater utility. The changes here, will it impact that at all?

    Sue – if we do a stormwater utility that assess a rate based on impervious surface, as a property is redeveloped and they create more pervious surfaces could impact what they pay… it is a cost as properties get redeveloped. You’ll pay one way or another.

    Dan Handy – thanks, but nothing to add.

    Liz – when is the next public hearing?

    Sue – July 6th at your selectboard meeting, then you can vote that night, or send it back, or make tweaks…

    Daniel – my comment is this is a public hearing, so if the public wants to be heard, they need to attend. After tonight they’ll know more about what is in it, so thanks to the press for reporting on it. Now is the time to speak up if you have concerns.

    Liz – any public?

    Jessica LaFlam – so I have a question about the currently one dwelling for one and a half acres. How would that impact a low impact residential setting?

    Sue – we have a different minimum lot sizes for districts. In rural residential it is 1.5 acre for 1 or 2 family dwellings. No change there. These areas don’t have water and sewer and want denser development in other districts. It would make housing more expensive in rural residential, but you can do clusters and other things.

    public hearing closed.

    Liz – sue’s on tap, but we need to take our break. Back at 8:15…

  • Website / Community Engagement Project – Staff’s Recommended Process for Developing a Request for Proposals

    They are back…

    Liz – OK, here we all are, so thanks Sue…

    Sue – so, tonight is a proposal for the website community engagement process. At RTM there was $75k for upgrades for the town website, and you wanted a detailed RFP after getting community input, and so I share with you the inclusive process to use to create the RFP. The first step is to review the current site, the site traffic, usage and content. We want to look at that. We will talk internally with town staff and externally with the community. Internally, staff use and manage the website, constantly uploading information. It needs to work for us. We’ll talk with each department to find out their use and needs. maybe a focus group with those managing and uploading content to find out how functional it is. For external engagement – it is for the public, so we need to know their needs. We have three aspects – a brief survey to find out what people find useful, and how they use it. We’ll also do stakeholder interviews with community organizations – inclusive community engagement to find out their needs. And we’ll do 2-3 focus groups – people who have experience with the current website, and maybe a bit more tech. People who have direct knowledge of our website and content and what would be useful. We’ll pul all this together, put it together, identify themes and findings, then draft and RFP. It will take this summer, so we can have an RFP to you in the fall. That’s the overview. Doing this upfront will be useful for the project an for moving forward.

    Ian – thanks for putting this plan together – it captures the direction we want tog o. One thing I’ve learned, when we look at something we might change, it makes sense to talk up front with stakeholders to get those ideas now. Three months seems like a long time, but I think it makes perfect sense and excited to see what is generated from that work. WE’re investing in something here – the public face of Brattleboro, to last for a long time. I think it is great.

    Jessica-This looks like great process. What is it you are hoping to get out of this? What questions to have answered? Or will it be more creative?

    Sue – I want to know what people want from the website- what do they want to do on the site. WE need to keep thing people like, but better organize it. The community has ideas about what should be there that we might not think needs to be there… I don’t have a preconceived notion of what we should be asking, but how would people use the website…

    Daniel – In the internal stakeholders, could I ask for the selectboard to be an internal stakeholder? And when doing the survey – and asking about engagement – could you ask about the operating system they use… we have that XL document to find your trash day and it only works with a PC. Believe me. That’s why I’d like su to be an internal stakeholder.

    Tim – happy with it.

    Liz – ok, no public, so… we’ll just thank yo for all your work and note that no motion is required.

  • Town Committees and Boards – Appointments

    Liz – a discussion of vacancies and we have a long slate and will need to take votes for the Traffic safety Committee, and we have a concern and CPCC applicants.

    Ian – I’d like to vote on it because I’ll recuse myself on it.

    Liz – also, one person doesn’t live in Brattleboro… how do people feel?

    Tim – in agreement. (Needs to be in Brattleboro)

    Liz – OK, we can vote on that then Traffic Safety then all remaining appointments. CPCC – Gary Stroud and Bruce Sweeter are applicants.

    Elwell – your process is to call for nominations…

    Tim – I nominate Bruce.

    Daniel – I’ll nominate Gary.

    Votes on both….

    Elwell – so you should vote on each individually…

    Liz – at the next meeting you can elbow me… Gary Stroud (4-0). Bruce Sweeter (4-0). Ian abstains. Okay, Traffic safety Committee –

    Daniel – Rikki Risatti.

    Liz – all in favor …

    Elwell – you will want nominations…

    Jessica – Louise (Zack?)

    Liz – Rikki (0-5). Lousie (5-0)

    Elwell – because you are now going to do a slate. For remaining offices, there are only as many applicants as available seats, so the board can approve these appointments all as one motion. I’ll read that slate (reads it….)

    Everyone who applied…. Approved!

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