City officials consider new site for toddler park

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen at their Sept. 9 meeting discussed a possible new location for a proposed Vergennes toddler playground — a site between Vergennes Union Elementary School and the hockey rink/basketball court that is part of the city’s recreation area off East Street.
It is not far from the site on East Street that neighbors and other residents had opposed by filing petitions and attending early council meetings, citing the cost as well as criticizing the site.
Mayor Bill Benton said the proposal, which he and City Manager Mel Hawley have both discussed with VUES Principal June Sargent, found some favor with the council.
“The consensus was the location was good, and it might alleviate some of the concerns of the East Street neighbors,” Benton said on Wednesday.
The pluses are the site is large enough and level, and it is near parking, which might cut some of the development costs for what is a $42,000 project as proposed for the East Street site.
The city has earned a $21,000 Department of Buildings and General Services grant to support the project, and must match that amount through cash or donated materials and labor. Aldermen have said they would tap the city’s Water Tower Fund for any needed money.
A complicating factor is that the site is not fully on city-owned land: It straddles city and school district property. Benton said aldermen, based on his and Hawley’s talks with Sargent, believe that the VUES board might at least consider the proposal.
“We thought conceptually it was worth pursuing,” Benton said. “We gave Mel permission to attend a school board meeting and start a dialogue.”
If pursuing the new site proves to be a dead end, Benton said aldermen could turn their attention back to the East Street site recommended by the city’s recreation committee, or possibly to another location.
“I think the existing location is still in the running,” Benton said. “If it turns out this opportunity doesn’t play out for any number of reasons, the city council will have to make a decision.”
Aldermen also met with members of the planning commission to discuss residents’ and property owners’ testimony at recent planning and council public hearings on the proposed update to the city plan.
The existing Vergennes Municipal Plan expires on Sept. 29, and aldermen on Tuesday tentatively approved holding a required second council public hearing at a special meeting on Sept. 30.
Before then, planners will meet on this Monday to consider the final changes to their update, which they have said makes no major changes to the well-received 2009 plan that is nearing the end of its five-year lifespan.
On Tuesday, aldermen told planning commission chairman Shannon Haggett and other planners they would like to see one change based on testimony they have heard from property owners.
Current Northern Gateway District (along Main Street near Route 7) and Central Business District property owners had asked for easing a restriction that forbids housing on the ground floor of buildings in those districts.
Aldermen agreed to make that recommendation to planners, but only for units that did not front on main roads.
“Possibly the compromise is that if it is something in the rear of the building … you might be able to have some residential uses,” said Alderman Renny Perry.
But they declined to recommend a wholesale change to the regulation.
“I do think the Northern Gateway has to be commercial,” said Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly.
Aldermen discussed a concern by Kennedy Brothers owner Robert Feuerstein that design recommendations for additions and new buildings were too restrictive, but agreed Feuerstein’s fears were unwarranted.
Aldermen noted, for example, the design of the new city police station was not historic in nature, but merely fit in with the Northern Gateway area.
“I think he may have read it too strictly,” Benton said. “As Shannon said, we are not fashion police.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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