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Growth bothers Fairfax

Loan refusal raises hurdle for 'center'

By LEON THOMPSON

Messenger Staff Writer

FAIRFAX -As John Workman digested Fairfax voters' rejection of a state loan for a sewer expansion study earlier this week, several possibilities came to mind.

"Mostly; I was trying to understand why;" said Workman, co-owner of Hayes-Rich Funeral Home on Main Street. "It definitely appears to me that people in this community need to reassess their idea of growth as it relates to the town plan."

Workman's plan to develop 34 acres of land behind his business would have been much easier if taxpayers had approved an article on Tuesday, It asked them if the town should pursue a $42,000 loan for the sewer study.

Twenty-six percent of Fairfax's 2,328 registered voters voted 464-151 against the loan. That result was expected by people who attended a tense 2 1/2 hour meeting on the study at Bellows Free Academy-Fairfax Monday night -including Workman.

Most Fairfax residents opposed the study, saying they wanted either more controlled or no development in the village. Others said taxpayers should not foot the bill for landowners who have major projects planned in the growth center, particularly Workman.

The study took a back seat to discussions about Fairfax's future, and some have wondered just what residents voted about Tuesday.

Workman and his business partner, David Modica, have not scrapped their state-praised designs, though, and Fairfax Selectboard Chairman Ed Nuttall said the town may try to obtain grants for the sewer study.

"I'm not taking this personally," Workman said. "It's just bad timing, not just for our proposal, but for any other ones on the board, and any that could be included in the growth center.

"This wasn't just about my project."

An upgrade or expansion of Fairfax's sewer system is listed in the town plan. Nuttall and other town officials deem improved wastewater facilities necessary for development in the growth center, which includes Hayes-Rich.

At the Monday session, Workman said he was unaware Fairfax even had a town plan when he and Modica bought the vast tract of land behind their business, with plans to use some of it for additional parking.

When he read the town plan, he said, he thought he and Modica could use their land to ease the housing crunch in town - one of the fastest growing in Vermont, the most booming in Franklin County - and create an extension of the village in the designated growth center, something the state wants in many small towns.

As designed, the project divides the land into one-third-acre lots, which will contain a village green, housing and commercial and retail space.

The sketch plan also includes a road that leads to a two-acre town green similar to Taylor Park in St. Albans City. On the green are four condo-style elderly housing buildings, with 15 apartments in each, and a municipal government facility.

Twenty single-family dwellings and 11 duplexes border the town green, and three single-tenant commercial development lots sit near the funeral home. There are sidewalks, street lights and nearly 50 more parking spaces for Hayes-Rich.

The concept abides by the town plan, and Workman said it is meant to expand the community; not change or harm it.

"Everything conforms completely;" Workman said. "I don't think our plan is anything detrimental to Fairfax. If anything, it's beneficial."

The obstacle for Workman and Modica is that the plan is split into two phases. Fairfax has the sewer capacity to support the first one, but not the second; it includes the town green and municipal building.

The landowners are pressing ahead with the permit process for phase one, but, Workman said, if the sewer expansion looks like an imminent failure, they may sell their acreage to a professional developer who may have different goals.

He and Modica have invested nearly $200,000 of their own money - primarily their life savings - into the project already, he said, and the expenses are getting burdensome.

"We are not rich people," Workman said. "I am no different than the people who were at that meeting Monday. If this was about making money and taking advantage of Fairfax, we wouldn't have the design we have. I don't think the voters understand that."

In Workman's opinion, many Fairfax residents don't want development, but blocking it is unrealistic, he said. What he sees happening is a town that fights development in the growth center "while the fields are filling."

Then, when there are no other options, the village will contain development Fairfax residents hate, he said.

"Fairfax will not be able to insulate itself from growth. It's inevitable," he said. "The question is whether the town wants to fight it or accommodate what is good for the town."

He gets the impression many residents want to scrap the town plan. If that happens, he said, those same people need to step forward and help in the planning process.

"It's easy to complain " he said. "It's a lot harder to get involved and make positive things happen."