On April 15, 2015

Future strength of economy and growth dependent on density of town, reports indicate

Killington Selectboard considers Complete Streets policy to aid in goal of becoming a premier resort community

KILLINGTON — On Tuesday night, April 7, the Selectboard met with Jon Kaplan, Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, and members of Vermont Local Roads Program to discuss new state legislation called “Complete Streets” (Act 34) which relates to roadway planning.

The Act reads, “The purpose of this bill is to ensure that the needs of all users of Vermont’s transportation system— including motorists, bicyclists, public transportation users, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities—are considered in all state and municipally managed transportation projects and project phases, including planning, development, construction, and maintenance, except in the case of projects or project components involving unpaved highways. These ‘complete streets’ principles shall be integral to the transportation policy of Vermont.”

The Complete Streets approach to planning and engineering has arisen after many decades where automobiles were the primary, and sometimes the only, mode of transportation considered in the design process, as has happened in Killington. 

In the past 10 or more years, there has been a steady shift nationally toward a more comprehensive view of the users that should be considered in the planning and design of transportation networks. As a result of Killington town’s development, and the decision to develop the town services away from residents and commerce, the town is a driving community. Everyday residents make lengthy round-trips via automobile up and down a mountain to reach key services and the municipal facilities. 

For example:

7 mile round trip from the school to rec center and library 

12 mile round trip from Resort to town office

6 mile round trip from post office to town office

At the meeting, Town Manager Seth Webb noted that the town’s lack of density has led to identity problems: people often don’t know where Killington is and have often commented, “There’s a town? I thought it was just the ski mountain.”

The town’s sprawling land plan has undermined community desires to become a four season destination. The design and lack of infrastructure does not support the type of experience that travelers prefer. Recent state surveys noted tourists’ preference for places that are compact and easy to access via alternative forms of transportation. 

“Tourists coming to Vermont to walk and bicycle in the scenic, human scale towns and compact, pedestrian-friendly town centers have proved to be an economic boon,” wrote Bruce Burgess for the Vermont Agency of Transportation in the Bicycle Touring in Vermont and Vermont’s Scenic Byways Program Report.

Nationally the preference for accessibility is growing and it is impacting the housing market in similar mountain towns.  

“There is growing demand for walkable neighborhoods, and it’s an untapped market opportunity,” said Clark Anderson, director of the Sonoran Institute’s Western Colorado Program, which recently completed a study of high-country housing trends. Looking at homebuying trends in six Western mountain communities from 2000 to 2010, including Eagle, Buena Vista and Carbondale, the study identified a number of trends driving demand for what it called “compact walkable neighborhoods.”

How to improve the town experience in Killington?

To help address this issue, the town of Killington has recently completed studies of how to improve its Gateway and Commercial District and outlined a series of capital projects to make changes. 

To date these projects have not been fully funded. Instead of raising property taxes, the town has relied on grants to fund the projects. Without full municipal funding, the timeline is difficult to establish, as grants are unreliable. And while the town has been successful over the last five years in securing over $1 million in grant funding for projects ranging from sidewalk planning and construction to the new municipal park and ride and Killington Road re-paving, many believe it is not enough and taxes should be increased to pay for infrastructure improvements they believe are vital to the town.

Killington Resort, for example, would like to see the town improve its Gateway and Commercial District faster. The Resort plans to install over $3 million in new summer attractions this year, including zip lines, mountain bike trails, a mountain coaster and more, and would like the town to fully fund the Gateway and Commercial District projects in order to help make the entire area more attractive and accessible to visitors.  

Recently the Resort felt the limitations of the town’s current Gateway and Commercial District.  The Resort was working to recruit the Northeast Region Porsche Club of America retreat, which would have generated over $12,000 alone in meals and lodging in August. Unfortunately, the affinity group chose the Essex Resort in Essex, Vt., over Killington, citing limitations in the town of Killington. An organizer wrote to the Killington Marketing Department, saying: “My reasoning being that although Killington is the preferred ski resort in the East… To me the entrance road is a combination of a commercial signage and a granite wasteland. It works when there is two feet of snow on the ground. But not very attractive for a fall getaway weekend… Please don’t be mad at me for saying so.”

At the April 7 meeting, Selectboard Chair Patty McGrath asked the Board to consider adopting a “Complete Streets” policy at a future meeting to help address these issues in town. The Board agreed to place the topic on the agenda at an upcoming meeting.

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