Former Waterbury Village voters to weigh in on downtown housing project

Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 6:02 PM EDT
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WATERBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - A major affordable housing project in heart of Waterbury is on the line in a special election to be held next week. Only about 1,500 voters in the village utility district will cast ballots on the project which could have implications for the whole town.

Ask just about anyone across Vermont and they’ll say affordable housing is tough to come across.

“Rent is so expensive. Even with a two-income family, it’s hard,” said Melodie Campbell, a former Waterbury resident who says she has faced housing insecurity. She now lives in Barre but is keeping a close eye on Monday’s voter in Waterbury. “Everybody knew everybody and everybody helps everybody.”

The site at 51 South Main is where the former town hall and municipal offices once stood before they suffered heavy damage during Tropical Storm Irene. They were torn down in 2019 to make way for parking while the massive Main Street development project was underway. Monday’s vote will determine the site’s future. Affordable housing developer Downstreet Housing wants to buy the lot for $138,0000 to build 24 new affordable one and two-bedroom apartments.

Waterbury is not immune to Vermont’s housing crunch. Local employers have been raising the red flag over the need for more units. Town officials say some local jobs are vacant because of a lack of worker housing. “A project like this definitely starts to help bring that needle and bring the supply to meet the demands,” said Mark Pomilio, Waterbury’s economic development director.

But the housing proposal isn’t sitting well with everyone. Some residents say they are concerned that it’s too many units for the space and others say it could bring safety issues to the downtown. One resident has even offered to buy and develop the property himself.

Town officials say they have held several public hearings to answer questions about the project and who would qualify to live there. “Many people working in normal jobs here in Waterbury would qualify here,” said the utility district’s Skip Flanders.

The special meeting takes place Monday at 6:30 at the fire station on Main Street for eligible voters.