Upgrades in the works for two downtown Middlebury locations

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury leaders are pitching some modest changes they hope will have a big impact on the look of Main Street in front of the post office and on the safety of an increasingly used Merchants Row.
Middlebury officials originally drew up the Post Office plaza makeover last year, in concert with the repaving of Main Street and installation of some new downtown light fixtures.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the makeover is designed to address some of the current deficiencies within post office plaza.
“One of the trees (in the plaza) has died entirely; the other was in terrible shape,” Dunnington said. “The pattern of the pavement in front is flawed, and there is grass growing through portions of it and there are puddles in it. We thought we could improve it with a new surface, of the type that was done at the Town Hall Theater plaza and Middlebury Natural Food Co-op.”
The plan calls for, among other things:
• Installation of new surfacing for the area fronting the post office building. That surface will include a small amount of granite leading up to the post office steps. Those steps are currently also made of granite. Dark-gray tinted concrete paving, with saw-cut score joints, will provide a pedestrian-friendly surface leading from the Main Street curb to the granite walkway/steps. An exposed aggregate concrete paving will round out the balance of the plaza.
• Placement of three, six-foot-long benches along two separate strips of perennial plantings in front of the post office building. Along with those perennial patches, the plaza will feature three trees — two honey locusts and a Japanese lilac.
• Relocation, to the border of the new perennial garden strips, of the outdoor mailboxes.
• Reservation of a spot, within the plaza, for the display of public art.
Middlebury has received a $29,000 grant through the Vermont Downtown Program to help fund the post office plaza improvements. The town could fill potential gaps in the budget with resources from its sidewalk and/or tree planting funds, Dunnington noted.
Downtown merchants and postal service officials have been largely supportive of the plan, Dunnington said.
“It is a pretty important community spot,” Dunnington said.
“It’s not a terribly intricate plan; it really is meant to use these elements to simply frame the entrance of the post office, improve the surface treatment, and make it look neater,” he added.
Local officials hope the plaza project will be completed before the end of this year.
Meanwhile, plans are also in the works to make some modest improvements to nearby Merchants Row to make that busy street safer for pedestrians, motorists and a growing number of people using the Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) bus.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger has spearheaded the closer look at Merchants Row, Dunnington noted. The town hired a consultant, who examined the increased convergence of buses, cars, through-traffic, parking and pedestrian maneuverings.
“We thoughs (Merchants Row) could benefit from a review, and perhaps some reconfigurations,” Dunnington said.
That review took into consideration a whole range of solutions, including back-in parking as a way of lessening the number of people who now stand on the border of the street to load their car trunks.
But the leading plan — not yet set in stone — calls for:
• Re-designating the easterly handicapped space on Merchants Row eastbound (next to the fire hydrant) as a “general purpose space.” That handicapped space would be replaced close to the Town Hall Theater.
• Eliminating the westernmost parallel space on Merchants Row westbound (next to the crosswalk), with that area re-designated as a bus stop area.
• Designating the remaining five parallel spaces on Merchants Row westbound as being for “compact cars only,” with no parking 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. in order to better accommodate ACTR and its bus commuters. These compact spaces would be 18 feet in length, compared to 20 feet for the existing spaces. The additional 10 feet freed up would be used to enlarge the transit stop area to approximately 35 feet in length — sufficient for a full-size bus.
• Designating the first three parallel spaces on Main Street northbound, just north of Merchants Row, as being for “compact cars only,” thereby allowing four parking spaces where there are currently only three spaces.
“This plan will achieve the primary goals of the study, with the lowest cost and least change from existing parking configurations among the alternative considered,” according to Smart Mobility consultant Lucinda Gibson, who designed the plan. “The bus stop area will allow for safe loading and unloading near the transit shelter, and provide safe and convenient access between the bus and sidewalk network. All general purpose parking spaces are conserved. The proposed distribution of handicapped spaces will better serve the area, and in particular the newly renovated Town Hall Theater.”
Merchants will have an opportunity to comment on the plan at a meeting to be held on Thursday, Sept. 25, at 8 a.m. at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café.

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