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The Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) met a major milestone this year, 35 years carrying out a program of planning for the MRV directed toward its physical, social, economic, fiscal, environmental, cultural and aesthetic wellbeing. MRVPD is honored to provide professional planning, leadership, coordination, awareness, implementation and grant support to the broad MRV and its member Towns of Fayston, Waitsfield & Warren. MRVPD’s activities are overseen by a 7-voting member Steering Committee, consisting of a representative from the Selectboard and Planning Commission from each of its member towns, and representatives from the MRV Chamber of Commerce, Sugarbush Resort, and Central VT Regional Planning Commission. MRVPD Steering Committee meetings are open to the public and are usually held on the third Thursday of each month, 7 pm via Zoom. Staffing consists of Joshua Schwartz, Executive Director, & Kati Gallagher, Community Planner.
2020 may be characterized by unprecedented challenges and uncertainties, but it also shown a bright light on the resilience and strength of the Mad River Valley community. 2020 was a year of flexibility, compassion, and partnership…
The long-awaited Mad River Valley Housing Demand & Market Analysis was released in February, highlighting the significant mismatch between housing supply and demand. The report, authored by Doug Kennedy Advisors, was commissioned by MRVPD and the towns of Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston. While there continues to be strong demand for housing in the Valley, it remains out of reach for many prospective (and current) residents due to the lack of affordable, appropriate, or available rentals and home-buying opportunities. MRVPD Staff collaborated with the MRV Housing Coalition’s consultant in presenting the study findings to the three towns and additional interested organizations.
In October, MRVPD and AARP-VT co-hosted At Home in the Valley, a 5- part virtual affordable housing talk series organized by the MRV Housing Coalition. Over thirty participants joined each event with topics ranging from smart growth to accessory dwelling units (ADUs). The conversation continued into November, when MRVPD hosted the 16th Annual MRV Tri-Town Leadership Meeting. This year’s event focused on a selectboard discussion about affordable housing in the MRV, and was facilitated by Paul Costello, the Executive Director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development. As a next step, MRV Housing Coalition and MRVPD staff drafted a plan for the three selectboards to consider four potential action steps: funding for a MRV Housing Trust Fund; funding for a MRV Housing Coalition coordinator; shared support for Irasville infrastructure; and Valley-wide regulation of short-term rentals. 2
2020 marked the completion of the MRV Unified Trailhead Kiosk & Mapping Project. MRVPD served as project manager through the duration of the effort, which resulted in updated paper trail maps, inclusion in an online interactive trail viewer (Trail Finder), and a total of 47 trailhead kiosks utilizing a unified design and incorporating maps, trail information, uses, and highlighting the work of trail stewards. Seed funding from the three towns to the MRV Recreation District in 2018 made this work possible, which leveraged additional financial support from the State of VT. The MRV’s trail stewards and various public and private property owners collaborated to make this project a reality.
The timing for making the public aware of our recreation resources proved fortuitous, given the increased usage experienced this year. At the beginning of the spring warm up, MRVPD collaborated with the MRV Recreation District, trail organizations, and others to understand and communicate Covid guidelines for public recreation. Years of collaboration amongst organizations yielded a quick response, sharing important detail to recreators, municipalities, and trail stewards alike.
Further, MRVPD collaborated with the Central VT Regional Planning Commission in August to undertake pedestrian trail counts at trailheads across the MRV. It was important to track usage and validate the anecdotal experiences of enhanced trail usage. This work continues previous trail count efforts organized by MRVPD, starting with the 2016 MRV Moves Study. The data showed increased trail usage from previous years at seven of the eight locations counted, culminating in a combined increase of 25% since 2018. This tracks increases in trail usage experienced across Vermont, illustrating the value trails and open space play in people’s lives. With increased usage comes the need for increased management. MRVPD has collaborated with partners, chiefly the MRV Recreation District, to work on a strategy of identifying specific impacts and ways to address them. This effort will continue through the winter, with recommendations in advance of the 2021 trail season.
Transportation work in the MTV during 2020 could be defined by flexibility in response to COVID-19. The MRV Transportation Advisory Committee (MRVTAC) began the year focused on improving community transportation options by identifying new potential park & ride locations and services like the “Hitching Post” – a Worcester-based organization working with communities to implement a unique ride-sharing structure. Unfortunately, as things were starting to progress COVID-19 halted them in their tracks.
After a brief hiatus, MRVTAC reconvened in time to start work on the seasonal winter bus service. For the 2019/20 season, the MRVTAC worked with Green Mountain Transit (GMT) to adjust the Valley Floor route to better serve shoppers and residents in Irasville, as well as seniors traveling to and from Evergreen Place. While the ski season was cut short by two weeks due to COVID-19, the projected total ridership was on track to place 2019/20 ridership as the 2nd highest in the past five years. In preparation for the MRV Bus Service’s 2020/21 season, MRVPD staff and the MRVTAC focused on dealing with the many things altered or uncertain due to COVID-19: bus capacity, Sugarbush’s seasonal employee roster, unknowns surrounding restaurant and commercial establishments, etc. One difficult decision made by the MRV TAC was to suspend the Valley Evening Service for this season, anticipating low ridership.
Another impact of the pandemic was more travelers of all kinds using the Valley’s rural roads. We hope for the continuation of pedestrians and cyclists utilizing these resources, while at the same time increasing familiarity about how to safely share and use these roadways. MRVPD staff distributed “Share the Road” brochures and information and increased communication on pedestrian safety. MRVPD staff are working with MRVTAC, the Town of Waitsfield, and regional and state partners to explore options to improve pedestrian safety in the Mad River Valley.
As MRVPD approaches its 35th year serving the Mad River Valley, we find the community faced with a number of pressing and complex challenges, including a changing climate, lack of affordable housing, workforce challenges, transitions at major businesses– and most recently, a global pandemic. Questions of community wellbeing and resilience are more urgent than ever: who are the most vulnerable community members? What are the greatest risks we face? How do we rebuild stronger, more equitably, and sustainably? The annual MRV Data Report produced by MRVPD helps to answer these questions, but only if the data is understood and used. To address this, MRVPD has recently launched the MRV Community Dashboard Project to engage the community in a process of determining the data that matters most to gauge wellbeing in the Valley, and then share that data through a new, accessible online platform. A stellar six-person team, making up the MRV Community Dashboard Advisory Committee, worked with staff through the second half of the year in order to dig through recent MRV visioning efforts, town plan goals, and similar community indicator projects to develop a framework for MRV-specific community indicators. Committee members connected with local experts to identify data points to tell us where we are and where we’re going. Staff are excited to share the new online platform in Spring 2021.
The U.S. Census happens just once every ten years, but boy is it important! An accurate completion of the Census helps to ensure the Mad River Valley receives the funding and services it deserves, while also providing us with vital information to make data-driven decisions about municipal projects, business strategies, and planning for the future. MRVPD staff collaborated with the Valley’s local Census recruiter, libraries, and others to promote the Census and clear up confusions specific to our large second-home population.