The residents of the West Village today continue to live with village infrastructure problems that can no longer be ignored by the Selectboard. West Village problems include, but are not limited to, traffic, wastewater disposal and quantity of available groundwater. The groundwater supply problem in the West Village is so well known, and so long standing, that it is recorded in the Town Plan.
But apparently West Villagers are too vocal for the Selectboard when development in the West Village is being considered under the current conditional land use regulations—development that can only intensify existing infrastructure problems. The Selectboard is considering a change in land use regulations in the West Village from “conditional uses,” which gives Charlotte residents a voice in development of the West Village, to “permitted uses,” which would not. The change from conditional to permitted uses is intended to muffle the voices of Charlotte residents living in the village. According to this “plan” the West Village would be more attractive to developers.
So, we ask fellow Charlotte residents: Is it wise, rational, fair or even democratic to muffle the voices of West Village residents, Charlotters, who are the most experienced, most knowledgeable, most concerned, most vocal and most likely to suffer the consequences of the “develop first and plan second” proposal concerning the West Village? We think not.
Preservation of groundwater quantity, along with the many other commendable conservation efforts by residents of Charlotte, is a goal expressed in the Charlotte Town Plan (188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206). And it should be.
To state the obvious, without groundwater, preservation of wildlife, wetlands, forests, natural communities and life in Charlotte as we know it today will simply not be possible.
Unfortunately for the West Village, the groundwater recharge potential is low, that is, the replenishment of withdrawn groundwater is slow and, accordingly, will not keep up with accelerated groundwater withdrawal. (Geology and Hydrogeology Map of Charlotte, Vt., State Department of Environmental Conservation). Such low groundwater recharge areas include Ferry Road and Greenbush Road, including the Four Corners—areas of the town that are currently targeted for development under the proposed land use change from conditional uses to permitted.
Groundwater issues in the West Village are not news to Charlotte. Charlotte’s Town Plan expressly states that groundwater supplies are limited in some areas, “such as portions of West Charlotte Village” (page 53). Anecdotally, many households from the north end to the south end of Greenbush Road in the West Village have abandoned wells, fracked wells or lowered well pumps because the flow is inadequate for household needs. Other households in the West Village simply put up with no water on days when the flow from their wells is insufficient for basic household needs.
The rate of groundwater (quantity) withdrawal, the source from which groundwater is extracted, the rate of replenishment and the impact of extraction on neighboring groundwater sources by new wells is not regulated by the town. Vermont’s Act 199 encourages, aids and authorizes towns to develop their own groundwater regulations (see, “Municipal Planning for Groundwater Protection: Act 199 and Local Options for Groundwater Management,” Vermont Natural Resources Council, May 2012). But state groundwater withdrawal permit regulations under Act 199 apply only to groundwater extracted at a rate exceeding 67,500 gallons per day or to bulk groundwater withdrawal by, for example, bottling companies—situations which are highly unlikely to apply to commercial interests or residents who would be interested in developing in the West Village.
In other words, Charlotte residents cannot look to the current town or state regulations to ensure that their current groundwater sources won’t be compromised by new wells that inevitably will be required with new development in the West Village or in rural areas of Charlotte. Advance permitting requiring the party drilling a new well to reveal the anticipated rate of groundwater withdrawal and to determine the rate of its replenishment and the impact of its withdrawal on neighboring groundwater sources is non-existent. A neighbor whose current well is adversely impacted by a new well has no recourse other than to take legal action after the offending new well is operational. Legal action is complicated and expensive, requiring adequate financial resources of the offended well owner to gather evidence to mount the appropriate legal offense. We believe that such regulations of groundwater source, withdrawal rate, replenishment and impact on neighboring existing groundwater supplies in the West Village—and by extension to the East Village and rural areas of Charlotte—should be in place first, before development is encouraged in the town.
The rationale for changing conditional uses in the West Village to permitted uses, according to the Planning Commission, is to advance commercial development in the West Village Commercial District. Apparently would-be developers are discouraged by cranky West Village residents who take advantage of their right under conditional use regulations to raise their voices concerning the lack of critical West Village infrastructure. Under current conditional use regulations, the very same Charlotte residents who for decades have experienced the declining groundwater availability in the West Village may raise their concerns. Changing land use regulations from conditional to permitted uses mutes those voices that have been instrumental in bringing the challenges of uncontrolled groundwater withdrawal to the attention of appropriate Charlotte boards and commissions and to the potential developer.
Cicero said that “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.” So, thank you, residents of the West Village for bringing groundwater depletion time and time again to the town’s attention. Sorry to say, but for your shared insights, experience and efforts, according to the Selectboard, your reward should be a muzzle.
Revitalization of the villages is important and needed but not so important that Charlotte should not first consider groundwater issues; not with global warming; not with hydrogeology maps prepared for Charlotte showing that groundwater source and replenishment rate in the West Village is poor. And certainly not when taking the time today to responsibly address important infrastructure questions in the West Village may avoid tomorrow’s unregulated grab for critical groundwater sources in the West Village.
Before attracting more development in the West Village we need to know, at a minimum, what rate of ground water withdrawal is sustainable by the rate of ground water replenishment in order to ensure that current residents and businesses, as well as the Charlotte municipal offices, the Charlotte Library, the Charlotte Post Office and the Charlotte Senior Center have sufficient water today and for the future. Without careful, thoughtful, responsible deliberation and planning, rash decisions made today will have a negative effect on future generations of Charlotters that will last for decades.
The objective of the Planning Commission appears to be to advance commercial interests and increase density in the West Village at any cost. Even if the concept were laudable, muting Charlotters—the West Village in particular—as if these voices had absolutely nothing worthy to contribute to the development of the West Village, is disrespectful and undemocratic. The mandate of the Planning Commission is to plan, not to contrive a quick, gimmicky fix that undermines any responsible planning that would lay the foundation for thoughtful development in the West Village or elsewhere in the town. The voices of the West Village that would be muzzled by this proposed change in land use regulations have been and are to this day stewards of groundwater preservation in the West Village—a key preservation objective of the Town Plan. To date, Charlotte has simply ignored groundwater preservation. It appears as of this writing that the Selectboard is prepared to make a critical error in advancing development in the West Village without first addressing in a rigorous way its serious underlying problems.
We urge the Selectboard to take a common-sense approach and table the proposed change in uses and density in the West Village at least until groundwater is rightly preserved in Charlotte, as required by the Town Plan and encouraged by Vermont Act 199.