Aldermen eye police station sites

VERGENNES — City leaders are inching closer to identifying a site for a new Vergennes police station. At their Feb. 21 meeting, aldermen sliced five of 13 potential sites from a working list they had been eyeing.
City Manager Mel Hawley said on Thursday the five sites that did not make the cut met the original criteria set by the council — they fronted on a Class 1 or 2 road, offered at least 1 usable acre, and were not in a residential area — but were the lowest ranked by aldermen on the single basis of location.
Out of the running are two sites on Armory Lane, one on Panton Road near the town line, one behind Bub’s Furniture Barn, and land on Green Street owned by the Vergennes-Panton Water District near the Waltham town line.
“It was pretty clear that these were the bottom of the five sites,” Hawley said.
Aldermen will now rank the remaining eight sites “based on whatever criteria they choose,” Hawley said. “When they come back with the results then they will work toward … reducing the results even further.”
The city already owns one potential site, a roughly 8-acre parcel that is accessed by a right-of-way off of the east side of New Haven Road.
Also in the running are an open tract on North Main Street near the VELCO substation, state-owned land near Northlands Job Corps, a building at the corner of School and Green streets owned by council member Ziggy Comeau (who is on record as supporting the New Haven Road parcel), the Denecker Chevrolet property on North Main Street, C.H. Mann Lumber on North Main Street, the Kennedy Bros. building and another commercial property at 48 Green St.
City officials have not discussed costs for new construction or renovation of any of the options. Hawley has suggested to aldermen that they use the annual proceeds from the city’s Water Tower Fund to help pay for the police station.
That fund is fed by lease payments from cell phone companies who pay to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower behind city hall. Hawley said the fund now nets about $100,000 a year, but that some sort of bond would still have to be floated to pay for the new station.
The police station now is wedged into two rooms in Vergennes City Hall that city officials widely agree provides inadequate space, while the use for law enforcement can also pose conflicts with city business and Vergennes Opera House events.
In other business on Feb. 21, aldermen:
•  Heard from Hawley that the city planning commission has scheduled its first public hearing on its proposed new zoning regulations on March 19. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the city fire station.
•  Signed a cover letter as part of the city’s reapplication process to retain its Designated Downtown status. That letter and the application, which Hawley said would be prepared in large part by the Vergennes Partnership, will be sent to the state’s Downtown Transportation Board.
That branch of the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development administers the program, which, among other things, makes the city and downtown property and business owners eligible for grants. Such grants have helped pay for several streetscape projects, including the recently completed one at the intersection of Main and Green streets.
•  Heard from Hawley that heavy rains last spring overwhelmed the city’s MacDonough Drive pump station, causing an overflow that in turn drew the attention of Agency of Natural Resources officials to the city’s sewer system. Hawley said the city must hire an engineer to make recommendations to reduce groundwater infiltration into the system, and he expects the remedy to be replacement of some older clay sewer mains in the area. 

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