According to a survey of Weston's second home owners and permanent residents, there is a real divide between what people want the town to be like in 20 years and what they predict Weston actually will be. The results of the survey were included in a report released today that was sponsored by the Windham Regional Commission and the Weston Land Conservation Trust.
Wayne Granquist, a Weston resident and one of the principal authors of the study, said, "The survey showed that both residents and second home owners see Weston as a safe, secure small village with a rural life style and a working landscape, and that they would like to keep it that way. Neither residents nor second home owners want to see more second homes in town, and neither group wants to see a town dominated by retirees. Both groups would like to have more affordable housing in Weston.
"But most primary residents predicted that in 20 years Weston would be the opposite of what they desired. They see a future community with a majority of second homes, a lot of retired people, little affordable housing, and a disappearing working landscape.
"Second home owners were a little more likely to believe that Weston would be much like the town of today, but they agreed with residents that there was little likelihood of affordable housing being available in the Weston of 2029", Granquist said.
The study found that Weston's economy is greatly dependent on second homes and primary residents who have moved to town in the past 20 years. The researchers calculated, based on information gathered from the survey, that second home owners spend more than a million dollars a year on local services, including lawn and garden maintenance, snow plowing, home repairs and housekeeping, and that they are significant contributors to local non-profits. Primary residents - especially those who have come to Weston since 1990 - add another million, for a total revenue to local businesses of about two million dollars a year.
The survey results also showed that Bromley, Stratton and Okemo resorts, plus the Weston Playhouse Theatre Company, are important factors in choosing Weston for a second home. Also, more than two-thirds of the second home owners noted that their Weston real property tax rates were very high compared to their primary homes.
Jeffrey Lewis, Executive Director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and another participant in the study, said, "The second home owner population is wealthy, mobile and savvy. If Weston begins to disappoint their expectations for the future, if taxes on second homes continue to be perceived as extremely high and out of control, or if local ski areas get into trouble, second home owners, along with a lot of retirees who have moved to Weston, may well decide to move elsewhere. That would have important consequences in terms of employment, culture and real estate values - not only to the economy of Weston, but to the State of Vermont. I believe the findings of the Weston study are probably applicable to many other towns in the state.
"Vermont is blessed with many advantages, including clean air and water, working landscapes, strong communities and a public policy that is aimed to treat all of our citizens fairly. But we are at risk of becoming an unsustainable State, in the sense that a large number of its residents may be unable to afford to live here, while the second home owners (and wealthier primary residents) who comprise so much of the property tax base and economy of Vermont may be increasingly motivated to move elsewhere. These are issues that demand attention from our State's leaders."
The purpose of the study, which began in the fall of 2008 and concluded earlier this year, was to gather data on the opinions and preferences of Weston's residents and second home owners, and to examine the impact of second homes on the culture, land use and economy of Weston. The questionnaire was distributed to all the voters and property owners of the town, and the results were compiled and tabulated by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont. Financial support for the effort was provided by a grant from the Orton Family Foundation.
Members of the group that steered the study were: Wayne Granquist, Charles (Tim) Goodwin and Noel Fritzinger of Weston, James Matteau, Executive Director of the Windham Regional Commission, Jeffrey Lewis, Executive Director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Ian Bowers of Ludlow and Princeton, N.J., and Deborah Brighton of Salisbury, Vermont. Michael Moser of the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont compiled the data, and the report was formatted by Deborah Peretz of Red Dot Communications of Bondville.
Printed copies of the report have been sent to the Weston Selectboard and are available at the Weston Town Clerk's Office and the Weston Wilder Memorial Library. The text of the report is posted at www.rpc.windham.vt.us.