Let's move beyond small ball

Friday December 14, 2012

Mike Bethel

Why does the Bennington Select Board always play small ball? The board never thinks big. It is content with studying everything over and over again, never coming up an original idea of its own. I was at the last Select Board meeting and I was very disappointed about the reaction to my recommendation about putting the advisory question on Johnson Controls on the ballot. This would have given the people of Bennington a chance to weigh in on changing the zoning for the Johnson Controls property to commercial/industrial.

Four members voted not to do it; two members voted to do it.

Chris Oldman and Justin Corcoran weren't afraid of learning what the people thought of this issue. Four other members -- Jim Carroll, Greg Van Houten, Jason Morrissey, and Sharon Brush -- didn't want to hear the people's opinion.

As most can remember, when the Wal-Mart issue was put before the voters, a majority supported growing Bennington's economy. This vote allowed Wal-Mart to expand under Bennington's zoning.

I have great confidence in the voters of Bennington. I can live with their decision, whether it agrees with my opinion or not. These four board members must be afraid that the people would support the zoning change. By that vote, the voters would express their desire for our economy to grow and to allow a property that has been vacant for 20 years to be developed. In light of the recent news that it may cost us $17 million to upgrade our water and sewer system, you would think some on that board would put a little effort into boosting our grand list so that all of these bills that are coming due for infrastructure won't fall only on the back of the existing residents and businesses of Bennington.

As I have been a staunch proponent for smart growth on Northside Drive, it seems that a majority of the Select Board has adopted just the opposite policy. They don't seem to want business growth anywhere in Bennington.

The other part of that Select Board meeting that bothered me was the treatment of one hard-working business in our town that has been courageously trying to make a go of it. With virtually no notice, parking spaces were taken away from this business.

I am referring to the Dutch bakery, Bakkerij Krijnen, at the east end of town. I know Hans and Jennifer Krijnen. Not only are they talented bakers, they are extremely nice people. I scratch my head in wonder why in this community we can show favoritism to some and step all over others.

One little bakery -- the Crazy Russian Girls bakery -- gets all the attention, and I'm glad they do. They are situated right in the middle of town. But the Dutch bakery is not in downtown, and that appears to be its problem.

The Better Bennington Corporation aids businesses in the downtown district.

No such help is available to those outside downtown. The Dutch bakery could use more support, not fewer parking spaces.

Now giving credit to the town manager, he says mistakes were made here, and admits there was a lack of communication. He has agreed to restore the spaces. That's fine, but make this right as fast as you can so that it doesn't hurt this small business. No more excuses.

Our town staff should treat all businesses as if we need and want them, because we do.

Mike Bethel is a Banner columnist who lives in Bennington.


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