Grant is key to new city playground

VERGENNES — The proposed Vergennes toddler playground has a few hurdles to clear before it can be built near the city pool this spring. The project depends on whether the city receives a $25,000 state grant, aldermen heard at their Oct. 8 meeting.
Alderman and city recreation committee head Joe Klopfenstein and City Manager Mel Hawley updated the council on the proposed toddler park at that meeting.
Klopfenstein said that the grant from the Vermont Recreation Facilities Program is critical, especially because the park’s cost, as designed, is now estimated at nearer $50,000, not at $30,000 as had been hoped.
Without the grant, he said, “the project, at least as planned, is a no-go,” adding, “We’ve just got to see if we get that money.”
Klopfenstein also said the committee would be working with Middlebury’s Landworks landscape design firm to tweak the playground plans.
“Everyone just loves that design, but everyone agrees it is pricey,” he said.
At a recent public meeting, Klopfenstein also said some questions were raised about the park, which the recreation committee hopes to site between the pool and East Street, next to the recreation complex that shares an entrance from East Street and parking with Vergennes Union Elementary School.
“There were some reasonable concerns … about parking and location,” Klopfenstein said.
Hawley said a central question was where parents who drove to the playground would park during school hours, when parking is at a premium.
Hawley did respond to one objection to the proposal. Some, he said, wonder why it is needed when there is a playground behind VUES. But Hawley said that playground is off limits to all except VUES students during school hours, and the city lacks facilities for preschoolers.
Officials said they understood the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services would review the grant application later this month, and they hoped to know more by November.
Aldermen also heard from planning commission chairman Shannon Haggett that planners are beginning work to update the four-year-old Vergennes City Plan.
Haggett said most of the work should consist of updating the “factual” portions of the document, such as Census data. Other than tweaks of some policies and possibly elimination of some others that call for specific actions that have already been taken, he said he does not expect major changes.
“There probably won’t be a lot of substantial updates,” he said.
Hawley, also the city’s zoning administrator, said “because the 2009 plan is a very good plan” he does not expect a full rewrite, meaning the adoption process could be relatively simple.
“We’re hoping at this point we can do an update, so it is really a re-adoption,” he said.
Unlike the last adoption process, a full rewrite that required a couple years, Haggett said he expects the target date of next November to be met, even with plenty of formal and informal public meetings in the mix.
“Our target is to get this to you by the end of May,” he said.
In other business, aldermen:
•  Began the process of discontinuing what is technically an extension of Victory Street to Otter Creek, a move that would allow the city eventually to sell an unused piece of city-owned land to a resident. That strip of land now bisects the resident’s property, and Hawley said it is preventing the homeowner from building a garage.
•  Heard from Haggett that planners are sponsoring an update to the city’s 1998 Urban Forestry survey. A link on the city’s Vergennes.org website allows residents to identify specific trees within city limits and comment on their health, Haggett said.
•  Heard from Haggett of planners’ recommendations for pedestrian safety: adding pedestrian-triggered devices to stop traffic at the intersections of Main Street with Green Street and Monkton road, installing signs that flash motorists’ speed and indicate the presence of crosswalks, and adding textured surfaces to crosswalks to make them stand out more to drivers.
•  Heard from Hawley that he had spoken to Encore Redevelopment head Chad Farrell earlier that day about the solar array proposed for the city sewer plant. It is still on track, Hawley said, but Encore is still talking with Green Mountain Power about the best way to relocate utility poles and is bringing a new financial partner on board.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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