Middlebury hopes to slow Route 7 traffic

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday agreed to seek a lower speed limit on Route 7 South between Middlebury village and East Middlebury, an action prompted at least in part by last week’s fatal accident at the intersection of the highway and Cady Cross Road.
Middlebury Development Review Board member Scott Foster came to the meeting to urge selectmen to petition the Agency of Transportation to lower the 50 mph limit between G. Stone Motors and Route 125.
Foster said the Aug. 6 two-vehicle accident (see story, Page 14B) near his business, Foster Motors, was sadly not a surprise.
“I see close calls there every day,” Foster said, adding that the DRB had also backed the recommendation.
Selectboard chairman John Tenny said trucks and cars pulling on and off Route 7 on that stretch from many businesses, including the Omya quarry and several car dealerships, posed a safety hazard.
But he added that the town’s record of persuading the AOT to lower local speed limits is mixed. Previously, Tenny said, Middlebury officials had lobbied for lower limits on Route 125 through East Middlebury and on a stretch of Route 116, but were only able to obtain some traffic-calming concessions.
Even more traffic calming would be welcome, though, Tenny said.
“I’m just trying to be realistic here,” he said.
In response to a question, Tenny said the AOT has an interest in keeping traffic moving as quickly and safely as possible in the major north-south corridor in western Vermont, and that if an AOT study showed that 85 percent of the traffic was moving at 50 mph or faster the agency might be reluctant to act.
Selectman Dean George said, however, that an AOT study would also look at whether there had been serious accidents in the area, and last week’s fatality would weigh in the agency’s evaluation.
In the end, selectmen voted unanimously to ask the agency to study the speed limit on that stretch of Route 7.
HOUSING BACKED
Selectmen on Tuesday also unanimously backed a plan by the nonprofit Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) to buy and convert a former duplex at 61 Court St. into a rooming house and group home.
HOPE Executive Director Jeanne Montross requested that selectmen sign off on a Community Development Block Grant application for up to $600,000 to help fund an estimated $1.1 million project.
Host communities must support such block grants, and Tuesday’s meeting included a public hearing on the grant. The hearing drew no comment or questions except from selectmen before they agreed to support HOPE’s application.
HOPE will present its case to the Vermont Community Development Program in September. Other funding would come from the Federal HOME Program and the Vermont Housing and Conservation Trust Fund.
The 100-year-old building in question was most recently used by the Counseling Service of Addison County as office space, and HOPE officials and housing advocates have previously identified the location as ideal for affordable housing.
According to a handout Montross gave to selectmen, the project will meet a major need if it is funded and completed by August 2011, as is hoped. The handout stated, “The Addison County Housing Coalition has identified a rooming house as being of top priority.”
Plans call for gutting the three-story building. The foundation would receive major repairs, and new wiring and plumbing would be installed. A sprinkler system would allow for removal of fire escapes that are considered to be eyesores.
The interior space will be converted into eight single-room rental units, a one-bedroom manager’s apartment, an efficiency apartment, and a common kitchen and dining/living room. Plans also call for removing a garage and putting in its place a new three-unit building with one adaptable and two wheel-chair accessible apartments.
The single-room apartments will be rented, with subsidies, for around $300 per month, with utilities included, to allow single working adults to afford them. The apartments in the second building would be priced at market rates but eligible for subsidy vouchers.
Montross said HOPE planned to manage the property, but would discuss a management deal with the Addison County Community Trust, which manages some other HOPE buildings. She said rental payments would support maintenance costs.
In other business, selectmen:
• Agreed to amend the town’s traffic ordinance to make permanent the afternoon closure of part of Monroe Street when Middlebury Union High School’s day ends. Selectmen said last spring’s experiment of doing so in order to relieve that hour’s traffic crunch proved successful. The town manager and police chief will have flexibility to pinpoint the necessary hours.
• Briefly discussed long-range plans for developing land, now a number of small parcels, between the Ilsley Library and Otter Creek next to the Cross Street Bridge. Middlebury College students have worked on 3-D models of three proposals with different levels of buildings, parkland and parking. Selectmen said a committee is fine-tuning those proposals for upcoming public presentation and discussion. They foresee an eventual possible extension of Middlebury’s downtown and tax base.
• Agreed to pay $2,800 to help move a sewer line on behalf of Jim Peabody, a property owner affected by the new bridge. Peabody owns an apartment building at the junction of Water and Cross streets, and lost parking with the widening of Cross Street, although no land was formally taken. In order to put new parking on the rear of his property, the sewer line has to be moved.
• Discussed plans for the centerpiece of the under-construction roundabout at the bridge’s downtown end; see story on Page 3A.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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