Middlebury riverfront plan OK’d

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday voted unanimously to spend $70,000 from the town’s conservation fund to beautify and improve public access to the riverfront area of the Marble Works that fronts the Otter Creek falls.
The riverfront area has long been targeted for improvements that would attract shoppers, tourists and locals who would have a safer, better-groomed area from which to view the spectacular Otter Creek falls from the Marble Works complex.
It was during the spring of 2009 that an ad hoc committee led by resident Nancy Malcolm successfully applied for a $240,000 federal grant to not only upgrade the riverfront, but also improve its access to pedestrians entering the Marble Works from Printer’s Alley. The alley is an 11-foot-wide street that connects the Marble Works complex to Main Street.
The federal requirement came with the condition of a local match ($110,000) that Middlebury planned on taking from its conservation fund.
But the federal grant, while secured, is now in limbo. Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington told selectmen that the Vermont Agency of Transportation is not endorsing the Printer’s Alley portion of the Riverfront Improvement plan. The alley is so narrow that it is hard-pressed to host one vehicle, let alone a new, raised sidewalk.
State officials are also concerned about how Printer’s Alley will be affected by the looming replacement of the railroad underpasses on Main Street and Merchants Row. The Main Street underpass runs very close to Printer’s Alley. The state has yet to schedule the work, which in turn makes any work on Printer’s Alley tough to schedule. And there remains real doubt on whether Printer’s Alley will be widened anytime soon. The National Bank of Middlebury stands on one side, with the Lazarus Building on the other. The Lazarus Building is currently vacant, but available for tenants. Middlebury officials and the Marble Works ownership have in the past offered to buy the structure and raze it, but the trust that manages the building has thus far not professed an interest in selling.
So with all these factors in mind, Middlebury officials have decided to use municipal Conservation Fund money to get at least a portion of the original plan done. That work will key on the riverfront and will be spearheaded by David Raphael of LandWorks — which is a tenant of the Marble Works.
Raphael on Tuesday presented a plan calling for extensive landscaping, clearly defined pedestrian pathways along the bank, seating, and a small “amphitheater” location for groups to congregate and even stage small performances.
Raphael said the work can be done in a manner that would not disrupt Marble Works activities — including the Middlebury Farmer’s Market held at the site.
“Most of the work will be from the top of the bank, down,” Raphael said.
Work would get under way this spring with completion by Aug. 1, according to a draft schedule.
Dunnington said Middlebury will eventually be able to use the $240,000 grant for pedestrian safety-related improvements at the Marble Works once Printer’s Alley’s situation becomes clearer.
“The appropriation has been made and (the money) is reserved for us,” Dunnington said. “We have a grant agreement, and it is not time-sensitive.”
In other action on Tuesday, Middlebury police:
•  Approved an increase in pay for election workers. They will now receive $14 per hour, up from the longtime wage of $8 per hour. Middlebury Town Clerk Ann Webster said the higher hourly rate reflects increasing demands on election workers and makes the wage compatible with what school election workers are receiving.
•  Agreed to apply for a state grant to develop a “hazard mitigation” plan for the town of Middlebury, specifically related to flood threats and possible prevention efforts. The effort clearly targets the East Middlebury area, which sustained flood damage most recently during Tropical Storm Irene. The town is seeking $45,862 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with a $15,287 local match, for a total project cost of $61,150. Town officials said the local match could potentially come from surplus funds on hand.
•  Revised the town’s policy on false alarms in a manner that relieves banks of fees if they follow a specific “response protocol” outlined by Middlebury police. Banks that do not follow the policy will be subject to a $50 fee for every false alarm that occurs during business hours. Previously, banks were charged a $25 fee upon the fourth false alarm. The policy had not been revised for almost 30 years.
Independent reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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