Middlebury riverfront upgrades to begin soon

MIDDLEBURY — Construction is slated to begin next month on a project that aims to beautify and improve public access to the riverfront area of Middlebury’s Marble Works complex, which fronts the Otter Creek falls.
It was last February that the Middlebury selectboard agreed to earmark $70,000 from the town’s conservation fund to improve the riverfront, a magnet for tourists seeking views of the spectacular falls. Such a project, officials noted, would also enhance the shopping experience for folks at the Marble Works and in the rest of downtown Middlebury.
David Raphael of LandWorks, who has spearheaded design of a project, presented his work at Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard meeting. The project calls for, among other things, extensive landscaping throughout the riverfront bank; clearly defined pedestrian pathways, one of which hugs the Otter Creek and another than connects to the walkway leading in and out of the Marble Works; and a small “amphitheater” seating area for groups to congregate and perhaps stage small performances.
But Raphael and the Riverfront Committee have also suggested some add-ons that he said could enhance the project. Those add-ons include four historic trestle markers, each of which would include lighting and interpretive signs; five oak trees; river restoration plantings; and a rain garden located adjacent to the stone “Gas House” building at the foot of Printer’s Alley.
He placed the total cost of those project add-ons at $22,000, a sum he said supporters will try to raise through donations.
“We’ve had two donors come forward so far,” Raphael said. Those donors have pledged a combined total of $6,000, leaving $16,000 to raise.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the project is awaiting a storm water permit from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The project will also go through Act 250 review.
Meanwhile, Raphael said he has already spoken with three contractors who will be invited to bid on the work. If construction begins in August, Raphael said the project could be substantially completed by late October or early November.
In other action at Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard unanimously:
•  Agreed to extend the 25 mph speed limit on South Street from its intersection with Porter Field Road to the entrance of the new Eastview at Middlebury retirement community. The lower limit was one of several traffic calming measures recently suggested by many South Street neighbors, who have seen more vehicles traveling at higher speeds through their neighborhood in wake of new construction.
The board endorsed the lower limit following a traffic study initiated by Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley. Hanley told the board that the stretch of South Street in question — six-tenths of a mile — did not meet many of the state criteria (street width, sight visibility, average speed of vehicles) for a lower limit when viewed in isolation. But Hanley said he could justify the lower limit for the sake of having a consistent speed limit for South Street as a whole.
“It doesn’t make sense to chop a street into different speed zones,” Hanley said. “It creates a lot of confusion.”
Hanley did not, however, endorse the concept of a three-way stop sign at the intersection of South Street and Porter Field Road. He said the sight visibility and absence of an accident history do not justify a three-way stop at that location.
•  Decided to dissolve the Middlebury Recreation Advisory Board (RAB) and replace it with a more formal recreation committee.
The RAB, in concert with the parks and recreation director, has helped shape the town’s policy on recreation offerings. But the RAB in recent years has dwindled to three members, while longtime Parks & Recreation Director Tom Anderson recently retired. Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger suggested that the RAB be replaced with a seven-member recreation committee that would report to the selectboard, as does the public works committee, public safety committee and other panels charged with helping the town conduct business. The new panel will feature two selectboard members; one Ilsley Library designee; a delegate from Addison Central Teens; one East Middlebury representative; and two at-large community representatives appointed by the board.
•  Agreed to form a citizens committee to consider some quick improvements to the municipal gym. Members of the Middlebury Town Center Steering Committee made this recommendation in the context of broader plans to eventually replace the current town office building with a newer, more energy efficient structure that will include a community center. Plans call for maintaining and improving the municipal gym, which has porous windows and houses (in the basement) the inefficient boiler system that heats the municipal building complex. Selectman Victor Nuovo, a member of the steering committee, said the new panel could reassess the building’s needs and propose upgrades to save the town on gym operating expenses (such as heating) while a new town office building/community center is being discussed.
“If we get a head start, we can begin to see a payback,” Nuovo said of short-term improvements to the gym.
During the months ahead, the selectboard will consider additional citizen committees to plan for the financing of the new building and how to accommodate the town offices while the new structure is being built.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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