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No bliss in the 'burgh

If a recent petition is any indication, then there are several hundred residents of the Addison County community of Ferrisburgh unhappy with how local government officials conduct the business of the people. A larger group of residents then we ever realized are still stewing over the $2 million-plus Ferrisburgh Grange Hall construction project. The big project started late last month along Route 7 just north of the Little Chicago Road intersection. The undertaking is spearheaded by award-winning Bread Loaf Architects, Planners, Builders of Middlebury, Vt. Ask Ferrisburgh town residents such as Bob McNary, Rick Charlebois, Henry Kandzior, Jeff Straley, Steve Virkett, among others, all about Ferrisburghs version of Bostons Big Dig. They are all sour about the process that led up to the construction project. And heres why Ferrisburghs project began after an arson fire destroyed the circa-1868 grange hall back in February 2005. Since the tragic fire, no one in the town could agree how to solve the problem of creating both a new town office and replacing the beloved grange hall (even though theres no functioning grange organization in town anymore). One group of citizens led the way, but did so with little input from a large portion of the town residents, at least thats according to McNarys view of things. Sure we received an insurance settlement and grants, but the grange hall job will be an ongoing, costly decision, said McNary. Going this route was based on emotions not practicality; I describe it as a feel good projectbut a very costly feel good project. We collected approximately 200 names of residents on a petition. The petition asked the selectboard to pull back and review the project before we plunged into it, but instead the petition was rejected by the selectboard because we submitted it too late. They said they didnt legally need to put this to a vote. That may be correct, but it wasnt ethical. Its too bad now because the democratic process is the biggest casualty in Ferrisburgh. McNary is concerned about the gradual silencing of the peoples voice both locally and beyond. There seems to be small groups of certain people here and there who think they know whats best for a community, he said. Theyre the group that thinks theres a bottomless well when it comes to financing these impractical, feel good projects. Ferrisburghs selectboard membersmaking what McNary describes as an executive decisionok'd the rebuild on the grange halls original site. And apparently, according to McNary, there were no ifs ands or buts in the decree. He and other residents feel they were marginalized in what they thought should have been an open and deliberative process. McNary says town residents werent asked to vote on the projectand it will affect their future taxes in large, ongoing maintenance costs. McNary shakes his head in disgust when he considers the paltry 12 parking spaces on the site where annual town meetings, and other events, will be held. He also notes that town offices should have been built away from Route 7 for traffic reasons and the looming fact that part of the new buildings front lot may be lost to a widened highway within the next 10-15 years. McNary then points to the costly retrofitting of the grange halls salavaged windows$1,000 each. Why cant we use modern, energy efficient windows? he said. The planners didnt incorporate any renewable energy features either. For example, we could have used solar panels on the new portion of the building; not to mention the high cost of heating oil to heat a space with high ceilings. A recent letter-to-the-editor by members of the ACORN Steering Committee clearly explained this very point (see the Eagle, Nov. 5, p. 4). Plans that were already considered to be overblown by residents like McNary had been underway to renovate the original 19th century building before the 2005 fire. Now McNary and his neighbors are gritting their teeth. They feel they cant legally stop the project, but they are going to make sure it doesnt go one-cent over budget. A project this divisive to a community needs some kind of watchdog. At least McNary finds some solace in the selectboards appointment of Bob Jenkins to oversee the Bread Loaf contract. That was a good move, McNary said. For the 200 petition-signing residents of Ferrisburgh who wanted, at the very least, a voice (and a vote) on the contrroverisal grange hall project, its time to think long and hard about the future of Ferrisburgh. How should local officials conduct the business of the people?

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