OP-ED: Montpelier Mayor Urges ‘Yes’ Vote on Ballot Items

By Anne Watson

Hey Montpelier,

As November 6 approaches, friends of mine have been asking me what I think about the upcoming ballot items, so I thought I’d share with everyone my thoughts on each article, not including candidates running for office. Here’s what you’ll have the opportunity to vote on, and for what it’s worth, what I think about each item.

The Parking Garage

The parking garage is going to be a great improvement to our downtown. Here are a bunch of reasons why:

  • Once built, the stormwater runoff will be better than it is now, as it’s currently just an asphalt parking lot. This new plan includes stormwater remediations.
  • We’re planning to put solar panels on the roof. If it weren’t for the elevators, this building would be net-zero energy.
  • We plan on putting in electric vehicle charging stations, with capacity to add more.
  • With so many more parking spaces available here, the green space of Confluence Park will be bigger, as we’ll reduce the parking at the 1 Taylor Street transit center by six spots.
  • There’s going to be public art on the side facing the river. Delightful!
  • Alongside the public art, as well as on other sides of the garage, there will be greenery growing.
  • Have you seen the rendering of the deck and the connection to the bike path? I think it looks welcoming and pleasant.
  • The increased parking on this site will enable affordable housing projects in the area, more specifically, housing behind Christ Church.
  • Montpelier could use more parking, and this project will add 160 net new parking spaces right downtown. This represents a 26 percent increase in the total number of public parking spaces available.
  • Once we build it, we can use our limited surface area elsewhere for things other than parking.
  • The land was donated by the Basharas.
  • This garage will leverage a new 80-room hotel. This means

More festivals and conferences in Montpelier

More people downtown, more activity, and more customers

More meals, rooms, and alcohol tax revenue

  • The $10.5 million cost to build the garage will be paid back over time. The plan is that there will be no need to spend taxpayer dollars on this, and ultimately this will be revenue generating for the city.

I recognize that this is an article about which reasonable people can disagree. I’ve heard one or two friends asking, “Why are we building car infrastructure when cars contribute to global warming?” You may have seen images showing how much of the downtown surface area is dedicated to parking. I believe that stacking parking is a better solution than dedicating so much of our land to parking. This will also enable other projects, potentially a bike lane on Barre Street, or new parklets, both of which will require losing parking spaces elsewhere.

My vision for the transportation system in Montpelier recognizes that no one solution will work for everybody. While no single solution will work for everyone, I believe that a net-zero future for Montpelier includes electric vehicles. (If you haven’t seen Tony Seba’s talk on YouTube about the Clean Energy Disruption, check it out!) A parking garage with electric vehicle charging stations (and room to add more) is a legitimate part of a clean-energy future. Electric vehicles will need to be charged somewhere during the day. Let it be here, in this parking garage.

So please vote yes.

Water Resource Recovery Facility, Organics-to-Energy Upgrades

This item will have a significant impact on our city’s energy profile. In most municipalities their wastewater treatment facility is the single biggest energy consumer operated by the city. We continue to make energy improvements to ours, but this project will take our waste water treatment facility to thermal net-zero energy, with the potential for generating electricity in the future as well.

Seventeen million dollars is a lot of money, but we will have new contracts to take additional fluid organic waste that will pay for that investment over time. Future fluctuations in water or sewer rates will actually be improved because of this deal. This is because the developer, Energy Systems Group, is giving us a guaranteed return. In case Energy Systems Group folds, we’ll have a surety bond to back up their guarantee. Even if we bond for both the garage and the organics-to-energy project, we will still be within our self-imposed debt limit and significantly well within the legal debt limit for municipalities.

So please vote yes.

Legal Resident Non-Citizen Voting

Like most people, I used to think that it was just not legal for non-citizens to vote. Period. But it turns out that according to federal law, non-citizens are only barred from voting in state and federal elections. Nothing expressly prohibits non-citizens from voting in local elections. Great, so if it’s not prohibited, maybe we can extend this privilege to our legally documented, non-citizen, tax-paying, permanent resident, green-card-holding neighbors. If we wanted to allow non-citizen residents to vote on Montpelier-only ballot items, we need to approve a charter change to allow us to do that. (This would not include any school-related items, since we just merged with Roxbury.)

To be clear, we’re talking about people who are here legally and fully documented. We’re talking about our friends, spouses, and neighbors who live, work, and raise their families in Montpelier. These people pay taxes.

So please vote yes.

Plastic Bag Ban

If we want to ban plastic bags, we’ll need to change our charter to get permission to do this. I think of this item as a tool for aligning our beliefs and our actions. No one especially wants to be using plastics. We know they’re bad, but we keep using them. I probably don’t need to tell you about the Pacific gyre, the plastic island larger than Texas. I don’t want to pull too much on your heart strings—I know they’re probably a little sore these days.

Academically, I know that the chemical composition of plastics is bad for the environment, but that message does not always translate into remembering to bring a reusable bag to the grocery store. People have survived without plastic bags. It will be okay. This is common in Europe and in many cities across the United States. Brattleboro has banned plastic bags. We can’t be outdone by Brattleboro! I’m sure I’ll forget my reusable bags a few times, and I’ll need to carry my groceries home awkwardly, but eventually I’ll remember, too. We’ll get through it, and there will be less plastic in the ocean as a result. The problem of plastic pollution is so significant I believe any step we can reasonably take toward cutting out single-use plastics from our lives is a step worth taking.

You’ll notice that the language of the charter change also includes straws and other single-use plastics. The council has no immediate plans to regulate straws or other single use plastics, but perhaps in the future we could make plastic straws available only when requested. Those are conversations we can have in the future, and we’ll want public input. At least with this charter change we can have the conversation.

Our local Shaw’s, by the way, is for a plastic bag ban.

So please vote yes.

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