City Council, Boys and Girls Club discusses future of land

VERGENNES — At a Jan. 11 City Council meeting, aldermen, City Manager Mel Hawley and Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board member Bill Benton together discussed the city-owned 8.13-acre parcel that lies behind homes on the east side of New Haven Road.
The Vergennes ID School District deeded that land to the city last year when that board dissolved. The youth club board remains interested in some of the land, which is near city schools and recreation facilities, as a potential site for a permanent headquarters and clubhouse.
Hawley said a recent topographic survey showed the land, which is accessed by a 48-foot-wide right-of-way from New Haven Road, has between 3 and 4 flat acres in the front that could be developed, more than officials first expected. The remaining land drops off steeply to wetlands in the rear.
Hawley also said the land could be served relatively cheaply by a nearby sewer line that is downslope from the site, and that it was possible the land could be subdivided into two usable lots, one of about 1 acre and one of 2 or 3 acres. That subdivision would require development review board approval of a planned unit development, he said. 
Benton told aldermen that now it is known the land can be built upon, the club board would meet soon and confirm to aldermen whether it is interested or not by later this month or early February.
After Benton left, city councilor Ziggy Comeau said the council should consider whether it should surrender the asset, which she said, for example, might provide a home someday for a new city police station.
“I can’t see a better place to have something like that than right here,” Comeau said. “We should be careful … There’s not much land left.”
Police Chief George Merkel estimated off the cuff for a reporter that a police station would need 1.5 to 2 acres for a building, parking lot and impoundment lot.
Mayor Mike Daniels also said many residents have lobbied him for walking trails and park uses on the parcel.
Aldermen also heard from Benton in his role as a Vergennes Partnership board member, and from the downtown revitalization group’s new Executive Director Bev Biello, a Panton resident, about its latest activities.
Biello told aldermen the partnership is reactivating its four core committees, on business development, promotion, operations and design, and it is seeking more local residents to serve.
“We’re now in the process of trying to find more volunteers,” said Biello, who Benton said had a background in marketing, advertising and real estate.
Benton said the key committee would be business development, which is seeking to identify and fill empty shop and office space.
Partnership officials recently sat down with Hawley to inventory what is available, and Hawley said the list was surprisingly long.
Planning commission chairwoman Alex McGuire, who was at the meeting, noted the city plan also calls for the city to establish an economic development committee, and said that task should not be overlooked, however, especially considering the partnership went into a dormant period. She said there was no need to duplicate the effort, but an official city committee should be put in place at least to communicate with the partnership committee, and partnership and city officials agreed.
Biello also said the partnership would like to work with residents who have business ideas, but might lack the expertise to get ventures off the ground.
Benton added that although some of the benefits of the partnership, such as tax credits for building rehabilitation, apply only to downtown, that partnership members still consider their efforts to apply to the entire city, not just “inside the dotted line” of the city center.
“We want to look at the big picture,” Benton said.
In other business, aldermen:
•  Heard from Hawley that the city’s skating rink is open from 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays and from noon to 4 p.m. on weekends. Two city fire department cadets are supervising the rink, he said.
•  Heard from McGuire that a planning commission hearing on a proposed Meigs Road zoning change will be held on Monday evening. The change would move three homes from an industrial/commercial to a residential/limited business zone, she said, and allow the homes to be used as one- or two-family dwellings.
•  Heard from Hawley that he and City Clerk Joan Devine are studying whether to change semi-annual sewer bills to a quarterly system in which the bills would be included in tax invoice mailings. Hawley said the switch could make it easier for residents to make payments and reduce office labor.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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