First and most important of all, we understand that the addition of twenty-two new homes to the Jennifer Lane neighborhood over the next decade, while meeting a goal of Manchester's 2007 Town Plan, represents a significant change for all Jennifer Lane residents, and we greatly appreciate their good will and patience. In this regard, what concerns us the most about the Journal article is that it makes it seem that we have not made an effort to communicate our plans clearly or in a timely fashion. This is simply not true.
On February 9, 2009, we sent the first of nine letters to all residents of Jennifer Lane, Hillcrest and Mending Walls. As our plans have evolved, subsequent letters have provided residents with updates. In addition, we hosted a general informational meeting that was well attended by Jennifer Lane, Hillcrest, and Mending
Another concern is that the article might have led some people to believe that the Board of Selectmen was conducting an investigation into how Habitat has handled the project. John O'Keefe and his office can confirm that this is not true.
For the record, we have been in communication with the town from the very beginning about the project and the roles/responsibilities of the town and Habitat for paving the road and upgrading the water system. While we have to supply water to the homes off the new spur road, there is no requirement for Habitat to upgrade the town water supply around the current road, including lines to the new homes. Additionally, the conditions of the town permit say, "may pave the town road" not "must pave the road."
Nonetheless, we have agreed to undertake both the paving and the water supply upgrade in an effort to have our work on Jennifer Lane benefit all current residents, not just the specific families for and with whom we build homes. We have proposed to the water board that they share a modest portion of the cost to upgrade the water system for all the current residents. Specifically that means upgrading the water pipes from 4" to 8" now, rather than waiting 20 years (the current timetable) when the water department will be responsible for the entire cost. Chris Ponessi of Speath Engineering, and the town engineer, Christina Legge of Dufresne Group Engineering, have worked on a plan. It will be much more cost effective to upgrade the entire Jennifer Lane water system now while Habitat is installing the infrastructure for its homes, followed by the paving of the road. A newly paved road would not have to be torn up later, saving significant extra cost, extra work and inconvenience to Jennifer Lane residents. An immediate benefit of doing this now for all residents is that they will have a paved road, and most significantly, the fire hydrants will have adequate pressure for fire protection.
At the last meeting, the Board of Selectman prioritized the need to reach an agreement with Habitat regarding the water system and road paving. We met with John O'Keefe on August 6 and have started to develop a firm plan and timetable. We are grateful to John and other members of our town government who have been helpful in guiding us through this very complicated and time-consuming process. Only when an agreement is reached with the town, will we be able to contract for the work. Then, the Jennifer Lane residents will be provided with a specific timetable for upgrading the water supply and for paving the road. We hope this plan is finalized in time for us to commence work this fall.
The Journal article also mentioned a concern about the exit from Jennifer Lane to Routes 11/30. This matter will be addressed when the water line is brought in from Routes 11/30. Additionally, we have never stated that we would, nor could, build five homes in one year. It is our plan during 2013 to complete two homes on Jennifer Lane as well as several A Brush with Kindness projects (minor home repairs program) in other parts of Bennington County. Our capacity to build or renovate these homes is directly proportional to our financial and volunteer resources.
As a specific response to the Select Board meeting, Jennifer Lane resident, Cathy Hill, took the initiative to organize a meeting at her home to which she invited all Jennifer Lane residents to meet with Town Manager, John O'Keefe. We are grateful to Cathy and John for making this meeting possible and are sorry that so few residents attended. The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for all Jennifer Lane residents to share their concerns and to learn the town's perspective directly from John.
People have asked about the status of our Home Owner's Association document. We have spent many hours crafting this document and are confident that an excellent framework has been established so that our part of the Jennifer Lane neighborhood will be well maintained and will continue to be a positive addition to the neighborhood and to the Manchester community over the years. Our attorney, Marilyn Hand, invited three other area attorneys, Mike Nawrath, Rob Woolmington and Gary Ameden, to review the draft. We are eager to get this document finalized, but have no control over when the process will be completed. Our request for an amendment to our ACT 250 permit was appealed, and we are waiting to learn whether the ACT 250 commission approves the part of the Home Owner's Association document that pertains to the maintenance of the community septic system. As soon as we hear back from the commission, we will submit the document to the town for approval.
In closing, we are happy to report that we have received a permit from the town, and we expect to break ground on August 15 or shortly thereafter for the foundation of our second Jennifer Lane home, to be built with and for Manchester residents, Brenda and Roy Cooper and their three children.
We welcome women and men of all skill levels to help build any Wednesday or Saturday. Our construction plan for the week is posted on the home page of our website, www.benningtonareahabitat.com. In addition, in September, we will be commencing our search for our next Habitat family. We hope that anyone with questions will call 367-1000.
Richard Malley is the executive director for the Bennington Area Habitat for Humanity.