Greensboro, News

RuralEdge Supporters Offer Comments of Unmet Need

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GREENSBORO – The June 4 Opportunity Greensboro Forum in support of learning more about a proposal by the RuralEdge (RE) housing and community development organization to create a rental housing development at the town hall was well-attended by over 50 people.

Panelists offered their perspectives on the work of the Greensboro Housing Committee. They added their voices in support of the urgent need for housing in Greensboro to provide homes for employees of Jasper Hill Cheese, the Greensboro Nursing Home, Willey’s Store, Highland Lodge, area schools and Highland Center for the Arts.

Reverend Ed Sunday-Winters offered introductory remarks and moderated the event. He spoke about the forum as a place for positive comments to be shared about the RE proposal and established a process by which questions could be submitted on cards.

Kent Hansen, chair of the Housing Committee, told forum attendees that RE was contacted by the town housing committee more than five years ago to explore housing options consistent with the Greensboro Town Plan.

That plan “speaks directly for the need of [sic] housing like we are proposing,” according to RE documentation provided to those attending the forum, which notes that a feasibility analysis asking broad questions about space allocation for septic, parking and other necessary areas has been completed by RE.

That work led to a positive result and, with the select board’s decision to extend the town’s option agreement with RE to December 31, a development partner, Evernorth, is now working with Ingrid Moulton Nichols of Banwell Architects to assemble a team of consulting engineers to begin an expensive process of developing a revised design.

Resident Bill Berman spoke next, offering comments from conversations he had with St. Johnsbury’s assistant town manager, in which he learned that the town sees RE as an important partner, willing to pursue new avenues benefiting the community. Other landlords complain about RE because they carefully screen tenants and get the best ones, he said.

courtesy photo
Greensboro’s historic town hall once served as the town’s school and is now the proposed site of a residential housing development by RuralEdge. A strong local effort is underway to bring options for affordable housing to sustain the vibrancy and draw of the community,” says RuralEdge literature provided at a forum on June 4, at Greensboro’s United Church of Christ Fellowship Hall.

Mavis MacNeil spoke about the challenges she and her husband Andrew have had since moving to town in March of 2020, including their first spring and summer shuffling between her parents’ home, a friend’s AirBnb in Hardwick and other, more temporary, housing arrangements.

They found a potential Greensboro rental; “a house with a hole in the bathroom floor and wiring so old that some rooms were without outlets or overhead lights.” They were eventually able to move into her grandmother’s home, but only due to her grandmother’s failing health and eventual passing.

Had that option not been available, she said they “almost certainly would have moved back to New York City.”

MacNeil pointed out the challenges other “educated, hardworking young people whose presence would enrich our community,” have experienced. One is Anna Weisenfled, owner of the Miller’s Thumb, who moved away after her landlord decided to sell her residence. Her brother, Roy, moves between long-term house sitting jobs and their parent’s home when those options are not available.

MacNeil, who teaches music at Hardwick’s Hazen Union School said, “I have already lost count of the number of teachers who have left or turned down jobs because of the prohibitive cost of living here.”

Her comments emphasized that the lack of accessible housing “is pushing out the next generation of residents this town needs to continue to function,” adding that the proposed apartment building would be a step toward solving the town’s housing crisis.

She ended, saying, “If you are uncomfortable with the prospect of these apartments being built, I urge you to look deeply at the source of those feelings and consider whether they truly outweigh the need, and the challenges, that are driving new residents – who could staff our businesses and strengthen our community – out of this town.”

Next up, Bill Rogers, Greensboro Nursing Home (GNH) board president noted the role that facility plays in allowing local people to be near their families when they need assistance in their later years.

With 50 employees, he said only five live in Greensboro, another five are unhoused and the rest live farther away.

Rogers reported on a recent survey of GNH staff showing that 80% like the work, but many said the commute is difficult because housing is unavailable nearby, a comment that received loud applause.

Keisha Luce, director of Highland Center for the Arts, spoke next about having moved to take on her position four years ago and having lived in six places since, including with a board member.

She recounted her frustration with trying to hire people who couldn’t take the jobs she offered because of a lack of housing.

Luce commented that “stewardship isn’t about buildings, but community.”

The final panelist, Mateo Kehler, co-owner of Jasper Hill Cheese, noted that his family is celebrating 100 years on Caspian Lake, which makes him a part of both the summer and year-round communities.

They bought their farm in 1998 “when real estate was cheap and easy to find.” His children have attended Lakeview and Hazen Union Schools.

Jasper Hill employs 112 people and retained them during the pandemic, while dispersing cows to other farms, as a way of meeting their commitment to create a sustainable local business that supports people in the community.

Because of the difficulty employees have finding housing, they now have five houses, offering 6-12 months of housing to new employees. Despite which, they have “10 to 12 open positions they can’t find people to fill.”

Kehler says “there are 54 kids among Jasper Hill’s Community, but no young people because there’s no place for them,” and “We have a crisis. Towns fail. Craftsbury’s school is thriving. We’ve done this to ourselves,” said Kehler, commenting, the town needs professional people to remain viable, which means “we need to stop having this classist fear of poor people . . . If you want to protect the rural character of this town, you need to support a viable village.”

Kehler answered the first question, “Do people want to live in a dorm?” saying that the proposed development will offer apartments similar to those in nearby towns where their employees live.

Someone asked whether large barns can be repurposed into apartments, with MacNeil commenting that grants often have requirements for walkability and barns are mostly located away from the village center.

A commenter suggested that the town’s property for sale in Glover might be sold for housing, which seemed an unworkable solution to add housing in Greensboro, perhaps demonstrating the fear some panelists had noted.

The response to the question, “How do we know this project will meet the housing needs of the community,” was that one project and even two projects won’t, but this one is a start.

Kehler said, “Do not underestimate what 10-acre zoning has done to the affordability of Greensboro vs. Craftsbury, where there is no zoning.” Commenting after the meeting, Linda Ramsdell of Craftsbury noted that Craftsbury’s lack of zoning creates its own problems.

Patrick Shattuck, RE’s executive director, attended the program, but only observed and did not offer comments.

Quite a few of the questions collected were deemed not to be answerable by the panel and were passed on to select board member, MacNeil, father of Mavis MacNeil, to be added to items to be addressed and answered at a later time.

Liz Baum, one of the event’s organizers said, “It seems like it [the forum] went well. The panelists spoke personally and passionately about the urgent need for housing in Greensboro, and may have even changed some hearts and minds about the project.”

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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