WILLIAMSTOWN — Urged to pump the brakes on a process that got off to a predictably bumpy start last week, a committee asked to explore the possibility of allowing all-terrain vehicles on some Williamstown roads agreed Tuesday night there is little reason to rush.
Select Board Chairman Matthew Rouleau kicked off what by all accounts was a comparatively cordial meeting by delivering his not-so-fast advice to a committee that agreed to heed it.
Differences of opinion aside, Rouleau noted the calendar was as good a reason as any to slow the pace of a committee. The panel, he said, hasn’t yet begun to thoroughly explore concerns raised by those residents who are actually aware of the proposed change, much less reach out to those who haven’t yet heard about it.
Even if the committee could wrap up its review in the next few weeks, Rouleau noted the ordinance adoption process and the required 60-day waiting period would mean the earliest it could go into effect would be just as the season was ending. That timeline presumed no petition was filed forcing a vote on a proposal that generated significant concerns last month.
Rouleau told proponents of the proposal the upside of moving swiftly was minimal to non-existent and could actually backfire if the ordinance were to advance without enjoying more public support than it currently does.
Rouleau urged the committee to strongly consider a more protracted, but arguably more productive approach — one that could end in a Town Meeting Day vote that would settle the issue well in advance of a season that wouldn’t start until May 15.
“I think this group has the time to really think this over and go through the details,” Rouleau said. “There are real questions that need to be answered.”
Rouleau said a range of quality of life issues, ranging from noise to privacy, should be looked and the question of whether the value of properties located on roads where ATV use is allowed could be affected deserves to be explored.
Rouleau said the same was true of the argument advance by advocates of the proposal that linking to trails in other communities could be a boon for local businesses. He openly wondered whether the proposal could make Williamstown a tourist destination and perhaps fuel private investment in the long-shuttered Rosewood Inn on Route 14.
“It makes sense to calm down and look at what’s the benefit … to the entire town,” he told the committee before making an early exit from its second meeting.
That largely self-appointed committee includes three members of the BillTown Wheelers – a fledgling ATV club eager to incorporate town roads in a budding trail network that would create connections to trails in neighboring communities. It also includes four residents who are more than a little skeptical about the idea and insistent it be thoroughly vetted before any decisions are made.
The only two committee members appointed by the Select Board include two of its members — Francis Covey and Chris Wade. The committee’s tenth member, Danny Hale, executive director of the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association, was absent Tuesday night and was blamed for the committee’s fractious first meeting.
“He (Hale) was pretty contentious and pretty disrespectful,” member Beth Allen said. “He set a tone for the meeting that I didn’t think needed to be set.
“The tone tonight is so different from the tone last week and the only difference is he (Hale) is not here,” she added.
That may not change, because while committee members agreed Hale could be a useful resource as their discussions progress his participation wasn’t required to resolve local concerns.
“I think we can hash it out without him (Hale) let’s be honest,” said Travis Pierce, president of the local ATV club and a member of the committee.
While committee members on both sides of the issue admitted their personal biases they agreed they should strive to put the interest of the town first as discussions play out while acknowledging the need to reach out to residents.
Baptist Street resident Mike Martel said he spent the past week polling residents in his neighborhood on the issue, noting that while opinions were mixed there was a dominant take-away.
“I was amazed by the number of people who didn’t have clue this was being discussed,” he said. “There needs to be more knocking on doors and talking to people.”
Committee members agreed an informational mailing should be sent and while they were initially considering recommended it be sent to those who own property along roads that would be used as part of the trail network they were encouraged to by one woman to think bigger.
“Everyone in town needs to be noticed,” said the woman, who said she owns an ATV she never rides. She said she doesn’t care whether they are allowed on local roads or not, but believes the possibility should be shared with everyone in the community.
Knowing what to expect on roads you drive but don’t live on was one good reason, but the woman said there was another.
“You piss off a Vermonter whose got land, and they’re never going to forget it,” she said.
Committee members said it was probably too soon to share a draft ordinance that even proponents would support changing in material ways, they agreed distributing a map reflecting the roads that might be opened up to ATVs and a short summary of what is being proposed would be useful. It might also be a way to reach out to landowners willing to offer off-road alternatives to the proposed network — one of the club’s stated goals.
The proposal the club presented to the Select Board earlier this year calls for using all, or parts, of nearly 20 town roads. That list included: Business Center Road, Erskine Road, Gilbert Road, Young Road, Baptist Street, Carpenter Road, South Hill Road, Graham Road, Winchester Hill Road, Tripp Road, Rood Pond Road, Grandview Road, Tower Road, Therriault Hill, Sugar House Road, Washington Road, Meadow Street, Depot Street and Beckett Street.
Though it may change, that list is currently considered the baseline for the club’s request and the committee’s work.
Committee members are expected to discuss the possibility of including an informational mailing in with the tax bills when they meet with the Select Board on Monday night and to provide an update on how they plan to proceed and what the town might do to help them.