Prudence urged

To the Editor:

While I generally hesitate to wade into the public waters to debate 'appropriate' interpretation of town bylaws, the recent slate of decisions by the DRB merit comment.

There has been some civil back and forth with respect to the addition of a number of fast food establishments here in Manchester, notably Dunkin Donuts (iteration #2), Subway and now Starbucks. Those in favor like to cite economic growth and increased visitor traffic as justifiable criteria for permit approval and a majority on the DRB appear to be of like-mind. But the approach ignores the fundamental consideration as to why, exactly, visitors choose to travel here. Manchester has managed, with some exceptions, to preserve its charming community appeal by administering a balanced interpretation of zoning bylaws. Thus, instead of an untidy streetscape littered with tacky signage advertising franchise after franchise (akin to what you find 30 miles north of here) we have a good mix of locally-owned businesses intermingled with a few nationally-recognized brands. This offers a broad appeal to folks accustomed to their conveniences but still looking to fulfill an 'authentic' Vermont experience. But the slope is slippery. The present DRB has approved three fast food chains within the span of two years. Prior to that, the last approved fast food chain was McDonalds and only after a fiercely contested battle - that was over 30 years ago. It should be pointed out that it is the locally-owned business that tends to step up to the plate in support of local charities and non-profits. Not the same can be said of the national chains.

My point is the following: while everyone is interested in growing our economic base, we have to exercise some level of prudence in how we interpret bylaws, lest we advertise to every fast food chain out there that Manchester is open for business and the localism that has defined this town and made this town so attractive becomes a fleeting after-thought in the minds of visitors who thought Manchester was anything but Anywhere, USA.

Stephen Drunsic



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