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Ambitious town plan approved in Jamaica

JAMAICA – The new town plan is packed with projects to improve life for residents and business owners, but also to attract more of these kinds of people.

“We definitely made a lot of priorities for action, and we just started making a calendar and decided when we do what,” Jamaica Planning Commission Chairwoman Veda Bassett told the Reformer. “I think everybody’s really pumped to move forward and do these projects we’ve been dreaming about in the plan. We had a lot of good conversations and had townspeople pitch in in different areas.”

The updated Jamaica Town Plan was adopted Monday night upon the Select Board’s approval. At a meeting on Nov. 13, Board Chairman Paul Fraser thanked the Planning Commission and the Windham Regional Commission for their work on the re-write.

No time lapsed between the expiration of the old plan. Town plans must be updated every eight years.

In the spring, the Planning Commission received a municipal planning grant to get help from the WRC. A community survey from 2006 informed efforts. Another reference included a public meeting in 2014, which saw the two commissions asking attendees about the town’s strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Community discussions were held and updates were given at Select Board meetings. The rewrite took roughly one year to complete, according to Bassett.

Priority actions for economic development include establishing a Jamaica Business Council, exploring additional public transit stops in town and looking at upgrading existing infrastructure, including water and wastewater.

The plan calls for updating the town website “to advertise the availability of broadband internet service in most locations,” ensuring realtors “provide prospective buyers with location specific broadband service options,” and exploring other venues to promote the town’s high speed internet capability.

Bassett called energy and village water “big things we’re taking on.”

The Select Board is considering three proposals for a feasibility study on a water supply and distribution system, and a wastewater collection and treatment system in the village. The town plan talks about engaging citizens on the subject, and looking at federal and state funding sources. Creating a public restroom in the village is another action item.

Regarding energy, the commission recommends monitoring municipal energy use and implementing energy-conservation measures or using renewable sources “where feasible.”

Priority actions include increasing awareness among residents and business owners around incentives for these types of projects, working with the school district “to coordinate school busing schedules to reduce fuel consumption and costs,” developing a “no idling” ordinance, and investigating a “pumped energy system” that would use local dams.

“As the cost of solar electricity falls and the improvement in grid control improves, economics and technology will drive the power grid architecture toward a distributed renewable sourced network of micro grids,” Planning Commission member Chris Robbins wrote in the plan’s appendix. “One can imagine an energy independent West River Valley micro grid sourced by a combination of distributed solar sources and Ball Mountain and Townshend Dam hydroelectric sources. A pumped energy storage system would significantly enhance its independence, perhaps enabling it to provide its excess power to neighboring regional micro grids.”

Robbins recommended the formation of a citizens group, made up of Jamaica and Townshend residents, to pursue the idea. At the last Select Board meeting, he spoke of discouraging large scale wind power on ridge lines in Jamaica.

The town plan also calls for collaboration with the WRC and neighboring towns “to address the impact of high end development on housing prices for typical working families and area or local employers.”

The commission will be creating a vision statement for affordable housing and looking into whether the town could participate some way in state’s Housing Revenue Bond Initiative, which is meant to build residences for moderate and low-income Vermonters.

The town will continue to work on traffic calming along Route 30 and explore parking facilities in the village, according to the town plan. Development of biking and walking paths will be encouraged.

“We’re trying to gain a little momentum here and see if we can make some changes now that people are interested in a couple different hot issues,” Bassett told the Reformer.

The town plan is available at jamaicavermont.org/town-plan. The Planning Commission has four members now and is looking to fill a vacancy.