Editorial: Middlebury’s mojo bodes well for tomorrow’s economy

Middlebury is on a roll. Recent news that the Middlebury Land Trust will buy 38.3 acres on the southeastern flank of Chipman Hill, thereby setting aside an extremely important parcel of land for recreational uses and as a valuable community park, only adds to a string of events that are creating a very positive vibe in the community.
That string includes events like the now-famous Chili Festival, which draws 4,000 visitors to the downtown in mid-winter; a half-marathon in early May that is attracting 700-plus runners, plus families and friends; a Midd Summer Wine, Beer & Cheese Festival that’s brimming with 1,500-plus visitors; plus ongoing successes like the Halloween Spooktacular, Merry Middlebury (during the holidays), the Friday Arts Walks, and Memorial Day Parade.
Add in the new vitality created by the Cross Street Bridge, an invigorated and youthful board representing the Better Middlebury Partnership, growing industries like Woodchuck Hard Cider and expanding food-related businesses in the greater-Middlebury area, a positive role taken by Middlebury College to boost the community in numerous ways, and a new initiative within the BMP to establish a networking opportunity for telecommuters, and you have the makings of a full-blown renaissance.
What’s particularly encouraging is a renewed spirit of camaraderie among the various business groups, which will be most helpful as Middlebury recruits a full-time person to promote the town as a center for economic development and job growth. These are the true building blocks of a local economy with a bright future.
More can always be done, however, and town leaders need to keep that focus front and center.
Among projects in the works are completing the landscaping along the Otter Creek riverfront area below Middlebury Falls on the Marble Works side of the river; and picking up the dropped pieces of a paddling route that navigates the Otter Creek with various drop-off and portage locations throughout the greater-Middlebury area. More could also be done with the Trail Around Middlebury, and the newly expanded park at Chipman Hill, as well as to the entrances to Means Woods, Battell Woods and Wright Park — nothing major, but these are great resources that are arguably under used.
Among projects looming on the horizon, the town is in the process of addressing how to fix the railroad underpasses on Main Street on Merchants Row (the preferable and current plan is to build a tunnel from one end of the underpass to the other and grass over that section within the town green); considering the next steps for the EDI building (behind Ilsley Library and adjacent to the Cross Street Bridge) that could include additional downtown parking; and re-imaging a new town municipal building.
What’s encouraging about the latter (considering a new municipal building) is that three committees have been formed to study how to build and finance such a building at the least cost to local taxpayers. In fact, a finance committee has been formed to study that one thing: how to get the most bang for each dollar that taxpayers are being asked to spend and capping that tax amount at no more than two cents on the tax rate so that the burden is manageable. That may not be possible (as the rest of the amount would have to be raised by other means, including donations, grants any other imaginative source that’s feasible), but at least the process is fiscally responsible: set the maximum tax expenditure and if it can’t be built within that budget, come up with a different game plan.
Finally, the town planning commission conducted an exhaustive effort over the past couple of years to revise the town plan, which provoked serious give-and-take at several community meetings and has since been modified. That plan is now being presented for additional public review and comment starting next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Ilsley Library. While differences may still remain, the expectation is for continued community dialog until the details meet the community’s common goals before a November vote.
All this points to good government and vibrant community groups working together to enhance what is already a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Admittedly, that is a sunny outlook, but then again, the weather of late has been nothing short of fantastic.
Angelo S. Lynn

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