Meet the five candidates for Chester Select Board’s two open seats


Candidates from left: Peter Hudkins, Donald Strohmeyer, Arianna Knapp, Steve Slivinsky and Hugh Quinn. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

The Chester Telegraph sent a series of questions to the five candidates who are vying for two one-year terms on the Chester Select Board. Those two seats are currently held by Leigh Dakin and Ben Whalen, neither of whom is seeking re-election. These questions just address some of the issues for many Chester voters. Arne Jonynas, the chair of the Select Board, is running unopposed for the 3-year seat he currently holds. He was not sent these questions. The candidates were asked to keep their answers to 200 words and lightly edited for style, spelling and grammar.

The town is holding a Candidates Night at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. Bill Dakin will be the moderator and questions will be taken from the audience.

Voting will take place on 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 7 by Australian ballot at Town Hall, 556 Elm St. in Chester. Or you can pick up an early voting ballot at Town Hall.

Why do you want to serve on the Chester Select Board?

ARIANNA KNAPP: We need to chart a course that considers what is prudent, promising and possible for Chester.

Many years ago, I represented Colchester at Vermont Girl’s State in Montpelier at the age of 16. I went on to represent Vermont at Girl’s Nation that year. I developed deep respect for our citizen-driven government and the responsibility of the general population to participate. Our earliest leaders were full-time farmers, business owners and doctors who understood that the operation and governance of the town was the responsibility of the citizens. Serving as the chairperson of the Chester Cannabis Committee for the past year, I recognized that committing time to the community while still working full time was never going to be convenient, but it is possible, and it is fulfilling.

HUGH QUINN: I feel one of the most effective ways to get involved and provide meaningful input and impact to the future of Chester is by providing my leadership and collaboration skills as a member of the Select Board. The town is facing a multitude of challenges across a diverse range of social, economic, and environmental areas and I would welcome the opportunity to serve Chester as we navigate these important topics.


DONALD STROHMEYER:  As a 37-year resident of Chester I feel that now is the time to bring my financial and accounting knowledge to the Select Board. And I want to promote getting the pothole in front of my house fixed so that my neighbors can finally have a quiet night’s sleep!



PETER HUDKINS: I have lived here most of my life and want to work with the other citizens of Chester to help the town grow into the future. The constant in Chester is change. The town is evolving and I would like to maintain a balance; we want to keep its rural small town character while developing an economic base and work force housing. It is time to put my years of service on other town boards to work.


STEVE SLIVINSKY: To help keep taxes from rising unnecessarily for both the community and small businesses of Chester.




What do you want voters to know about you?

HUGH QUINN: My wife Lori and I came to Chester in 2009 and were fortunate to be able to move here full time in 2017. I was introduced to Chester back in the ’70s when I would come to ski at Okemo with a family friend who had roots in Chester. Throughout my professional career and work as chair of the Planning Commission I’ve established a reputation for being able to listen to all points of view, distill the important information from the noise, build consensus and provide well-thoughtout, balanced recommendations. I check my ego at the door and do not need to be the smartest one in the room. I am open to all constructive and respectful input but will not engage in destructive, disparaging or derisive communications.

DONALD STROHMEYER: I’d like the residents who don’t already know me to be aware that I am a great listener, always willing to hear concerns and even complaints. My ability to listen and arbitrate comes from my 35 plus years of being a high school and college sports official. I also have considerable experience in running small businesses in Chester, including owning the Stone Hearth Inn for 15 years.


PETER HUDKINS: Since 2004, I have served the town of Chester as a member of the Budget Committee, Armory Committee, Chester Board of Adjustment, the first Development Review Board, the first Public Safety Building Committee and currently the Planning Board. I graduated from Green Mountain High School in the ’70s and worked in the construction trades in Vermont as well as other areas (and yet I always came back to Vermont). Adapting to the changing job market, I went back to school at Vermont Technical College graduating with an AS Degree, then Rochester Institute of Technology graduating with a BS in Civil Engineering. During my career, I worked for a $7 billion construction company, John Moriarty & Associates, and for a forensic engineering firm investigating insurance claims. I was first employed as a general construction superintendent in charge of building a micro-electronics plant. After a series of successful projects, I was promoted into a constructability problem solver. In this position, I worked on projects at MIT, Mass General Hospital, Children’s Hospital, State Street Bank and Brandeis University to name a few. These projects had budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars. I have the experience.

STEVE SLIVINSKY: I served in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at NORAD for three years, was employed for over 20 years working for a large computer company and then I ran a small computer repair business for approximately 17 years.



ARIANNA KNAPP: My grandparents owned and operated Knapp Farm Supply in Middlebury in the 1960s. In the 1970s my Uncle Hugh created Knapp Associates in Shelburne where he worked with ski resort owners to broker heavy equipment and resources between them. My mother, Judy, worked at UVM while I attended Colchester High School, where I graduated in 1986.

I moved to Vermont’s Upper Valley in 2001 where we raised our five kids. In 2017, after they had grown, my husband Chris and I fell in love with Chester and in 2018 moved into the round house on Mattson Road. Chris works at the Springfield Hospital and my mother moved to the Senior Circle apartments in 2020. Recently, our youngest daughter came back to work ski season at Okemo, which has helped me understand the impact our seasonal industries have on our local community.

What role should the Town of Chester take in promoting economic development?

DONALD STROHMEYER: Economic development is a very broad concept. We have a wonderful resource in the Springfield Regional Development Corp. that we have worked with in the past. I would like to see us build on that relationship. But we must be careful that economic development for the sake of growth does not deter from all of the things we love about our town.


PETER HUDKINS: The town should work on the continued revision of the zoning by-laws, and moving forward on the Master Plan. I did take a stand against over-regulation in a previous rewrite of the bylaws. The zoning bylaw changed to include for Non-conforming, Legacy and Adaptive reuse that are all business friendly with controls for abutting land owners built in. Right now all “Home Occupation,” no matter how small, requires a zoning permit, this unenforceable. This is a state right in Vermont. An example is a home professional office should be the start of a list of entitled home occupations that do not require a permit. I am one of the founding members of Chester Business Coalition. It mission is to ensure that Chester maintains an environment attractive to business. Small business is the driver of economic development in Chester. I did prefer the smaller less intimidating approach of the Board of Adjustment for business permit adjudications over the DRB’s more judicial approach. The zoning bylaws should be re-evaluated every five years.

STEVE SLIVINSKY: I believe the Town should incentivize small businesses to come to and remain in Chester. This could be in many forms, such as a tax credit or pay for ads. The town may consider an industrial park that is away from the residential area of town for other small businesses to operate. The more available jobs in Chester, the more people who will want to live in Chester which will generate more tax revenue.


ARIANNA KNAPP: Promoting economic development means creating opportunities for growth. It is important to look at how growth benefits current residents and how it impacts, and hopefully benefits, the future of the community as a whole. Enticing big business or creating a short-lived tax windfall will not have the same long-term benefits as developing infrastructure that supports many smaller businesses. Chester should look to the Town Plan to inform decisions with an eye toward retaining our small-town feel while seriously considering how to support and sustain residents.

HUGH QUINN: Having a strong, healthy and diverse business environment is a key pillar of Chester’s Town Plan. The town should be a proactive partner with the business community to drive economic development and growth. The Chester Planning Commission has already implemented several changes to the Unified Development Bylaws to encourage business growth and reduce barriers associated with obtaining permits, but there is more work to be done. Chester needs to actively support and promote initiatives that will make our town a unique and desirable location that will attract the types of businesses that align with Chester’s vision for both the village and rural areas. Inflation, taxes, wages and housing availability will continue to be significant head winds to economic growth.

Should Chester be more or less restrictive in regulating non-resident short-term rentals?

PETER HUDKINS: The short-term rentals should have the same requirements as a long-term rentals. The 9 percent room and meals tax collected by the state should be turned over to the town with the STR. The state is profiting by the tax but the towns have the consequences of the STRs. This is a double-edged sword. There is no doubt that Chester needs more housing in the mid- and lower-price range. To develop more housing, long-term rentals have to be profitable to owner. The state of Vermont has some of the strongest laws in the country in favor of renters. Some landlords whom I have talked to are planning to sell their apartment houses or convert them to short-term rentals. Some who have converted to short-term rentals would never go back to a long-term rental. On the other side, there is a onetime payment of up to $50,000 per unit for a new long-term rental building through state funding. It is my experience owning a rental that has been for both short and long term, last year there was a reduction in the number of days of the short-term rental. The town does not need to be in the housing business.

STEVE SLIVINSKY: Non-resident short-term residents are a business and should be treated as such. If there is activity that is going on that is not conducive to the neighbors, it should be addressed. Keep in mind that these short-term rentals bring in people who visit our town shops and support our community.



ARIANNA KNAPP: I believe that the short-term rental market benefits from transparency. I support the ordinance that was signed in December of 2022. I encourage the Select Board and the town to stay true to the goal of information gathering and transparency as opposed to drifting too far into regulation and administration.



HUGH QUINN: Short-term rental regulations are being hotly debated across the country. While there are some common themes, the impact of STR on communities varies widely and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Chester has taken a prudent and pragmatic approach to STR regulation with the recently adopted ordinance. The ordinance calls for STR operators to register with the town and provide assurances that basic health and safety measures are in place. Implementation of the ordinance will provide the foundation for better understanding if additional regulation is required. Regardless of what the data shows Chester should consider measures that will prevent institutional real estate investors from depleting the already dwindling housing stock for the sole purpose of operating STRs.

DONALD STROHMEYER: I really don’t like the term “restrictive”‘ when talking about short term rentals. A better term would be “regulating.” I do believe the town should regulate these properties in a similar manner to lodging facilities, such as inns and bed and breakfasts. This is necessary for the health and safety of all occupants and places them on an equal footing with other lodging establishments.


How should the town address the lack of affordable housing in Chester?

STEVE SLIVINSKY: By keeping the tax rate low. The lower the taxes bring in more people that will want to build and live in Chester.





ARIANNA KNAPP: Here in Chester we have been talking about short-term rental regulation, inflated home prices and a lack of rental units. These topics all fall into the affordable housing discussion. But addressing any of the issues will impact residents in different and unequal ways. We, as a community, need to look at the cost of living here, review an inventory of dwellings and compare the data to the anecdotes. 2020-2022 brought radical changes in property values, but also brought in federal funds which have been, and continue to be, allocated for the development of a more equitable housing picture for the state. The Select Board and the Planning Committee need to look at the near future needs and long-term impact of regulating some types of growth while incentivizing other types of development. Basically, we need to look at all the affordable housing initiatives and determine which areas Chester can most effectively focus on.

HUGH QUINN: Covid-19 and the resulting hybrid work proliferation has exacerbated a housing crisis that has been in the making for decades. Building costs, regulatory barriers, zoning practices, skilled labor shortages, aging housing stock, the growing wealth inequity gap and the sheer lack of new affordable housing starts in Vermont have all contributed to the lack of housing. Like many complex problems there is no “easy button” and the solution will require a concerted effort at the local, state and federal level. Chester can act by updating the Unified Development Bylaws to reduce barriers and increase density, identifying land and properties that are good candidates for additional development, incentivize builders to make affordable housing economically viable, and encouraging property owners to create more accessory dwelling units.

DONALD STROHMEYER: Affordable housing in small rural towns like Chester is a two-edged sword. We can’t allow large housing developments to forever change the attributes that draw people here in the first place. I do support zoning that allows duplexes wherever single family homes are permitted and there is access to public water and sewer. An approach I would like to promote is raising the property tax rate on 2nd homes and dedicate the additional revenue to assisting low and middle income families in purchasing their first home.

PETER HUDKINS: I believe a housing committee could be formed with members of the Planning and Select Board, as well as the public. I took some first steps on my own starting to work with the town employees developing a drawing of sewer service area, information that was not previously available to the Planning Commission or the town. I then added to the drawing, water systems with the FEMA flood maps. The Planning Board will now, for the first in decades, look at zoning districts balancing the basic requirements of development with the environment with an eye toward housing.

During a review of the project at a Planning Board meeting I identified multiple private and town parcels that have the potential to be developed into housing. This project took several weeks and demonstrates the time commitment I’m willing to invest … I would like to be the Select Board’s representative on a housing committee. The project also pinpoints the lack of an administrative town engineer. The drawings of existing town utilities with exception of water system are incomplete and no longer centrally stored. It has been an ongoing problem for decades and none of the current town employees are at fault. …  The town has the information it needs to be centrally located. My extensive construction and development experience should help to expedite any of the aforementioned projects.

Should the town buy the Jeffrey Well/Rt. 103 solar field?

ARIANNA KNAPP: The town has just received an appraisal of the Jeffrey Well Solar Field in the $1.1 million range and is waiting for a response from the owner/developers Greenbackers. I am not able to state a position until there is a counteroffer, financial data from GMP and the offtakers of the solar field, and projections of costs and benefits. My instinct is to move forward with the purchase if it is fiscally responsible with costs measured over three to five years.


HUGH QUINN: I don’t have enough information about the details of Rt. 103 solar field to determine if the town should move forward with a purchase. Better understanding the financial analysis in terms of cost to purchase, operate and maintain vs. the value to the town through reduced reliance on electricity from GMP would be key factors in making a recommendation. In general, I believe prudent investments in renewable energy is a financially sound long-term strategy to offset the town’s power demand and mitigate rising GMP rates while at the same time aligning with Vermont’s renewable energy goals and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

DONALD STROHMEYER: Maybe. Obtaining the recent appraisal was just the first step in the evaluation process and I don’t think anyone should be a Yes or No at this point. I believe my financial background could be a benefit to the Select Board in this analysis.



PETER HUDKINS: First let’s be practical, the cost of power is only going up as will the town’s need for power. The solar field has to pay for itself including maintenance. I have previously offered my sheep to mow under the panels just to help out. The American Rescue Plan and Development funds could be used. But we have been through over $300,000 just trying to keep the tax rate down. When looking into Chester’s future capital needs for the rest of the money that could be needed I was disturbed to see town report has no projections for future capital items requiring multiyear paybacks past 2023. The capital plan needs to look to the future for replacing town equipment, i.e. dump trucks, police cruisers, loaders, bridge replacement on Jewett Road and paving even if it is only the best guess. Now if the cost cannot bring into reason there is more than enough room on the flood plan for the town to build its own.

STEVE SLIVINSKY: To answer this question, I would want to see the  Return on Investment. If the ROI is such that the town will benefit over many years from the purchase of our own solar field, then it makes sense to move forward with the proposition to purchase it.



What is your vision for the future of Chester?

HUGH QUINN: I believe the current social, economic and political climate is creating some unique challenges for our community. My vision for Chester is to continue to protect, preserve and advance the values the community, both village and rural, hold dear while at the same time acknowledging the only constant is change. Chester is uniquely positioned to create a future that represents the best of the community’s collective vision. The community has tremendous diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and my vision is one where people are engaged and committed to participating in the process that shapes the future of Chester. I look forward to the opportunity to serve Chester in pursuit of our shared vision.

DONALD STROHMEYER: Obviously we all want Chester to thrive as a community. It should be a diverse community and welcoming to all. We need to be fiscally responsible so that residents receive the services they deserve, but frugal enough so that property taxes do not drive people from their homes and businesses. I hope we can also improve the walk ability within the town with improved and expanded sidewalks. I don’t want the town to be just a retirement community.


PETER HUDKINS: Chester is in constant change but any large growth is restricted by the village location between the three branches of the Williams River and Lover’s Lane Brook. The flood plain is required to remain open (no buildings) by state and federal law. So embrace the open area of the flood plain that surrounds a quaint but vibrant village center with accessible land as has been done in England. Small business should be allowed to prosper and a home professional should be allowed without a permit. Fifty percent of Chester’s forest and agricultural land is in Current Use protection. This land should be open to more recreation and not locked away. Municipal property taxes should be income-based. The town should promote small agriculture that maintains our open land. In my neighborhood of Smokeshire, I have a barn dance in June and hay rides on Thanksgiving morning. It brings people together to know who your neighbors are. Covid and social media have reduced contact between neighbors. For a town to be vibrant, it needs to be a neighborhood.

STEVE SLIVINSKY: My vision is to keep the small town feeling, with low taxes and with a few amenities to the residents of Chester.




ARIANNA KNAPP: My vision for the future of Chester is a place where families can afford to join the community, young people can grow up and choose to stay here, and residents value our small-town feel. My hope would be for consistent evolution and robust growth for small businesses that bring visitors but also provide enough variety of resources that residents can find all they need right here in Chester.

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