City nets $40,500 planning grant

VERGENNES — The Agency of Transportation on Dec. 9 awarded Vergennes a $40,500 “Strong Communities, Better Connections Grant” that city officials said would be used to plan how to achieve some of the priorities identified earlier this year in the Vermont Council on Rural Development “Community Visit” process in Vergennes.
The city had sought $80,000, but Mayor Bill Benton said Vergennes finished third in the competitive award process and was happy to receive the partial award, which officials said would be used to focus on transportation and on the Otter Creek basin area.
According to the grant application, Vergennes expects further financial help in the process, including $30,000 that the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services has authorized “to create a master plan for the 340 acres of state property located within city limits,” plus another $25,000 from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
City Manager Mel Hawley said the smaller-than-hoped-for grant would mean that not all priorities in the grant could be met.
Hawley said he expected that the task forces created during the Vermont Council on Rural Development’s “Community Visit” last spring would use the planning funds to focus on transportation and parking improvements, including making Route 22A through the city more pedestrian-friendly and better linking its key elements, and on upgrading the Otter Creek basin and better integrating that area into the rest of Vergennes.
Goals listed in the application include to:
•  “Transform Route 22A Main Street in downtown Vergennes from a truck route into a downtown destination.” It cites “traffic calming and mitigating truck noise and volumes” as targets.
•  “Develop transportation links to the northern gateway Park & Ride and co-located train station, the city’s schools, and the Panton Road Industrial Park to improve parking in the downtown, reduce peak traffic demand and provide connectivity throughout the city.” The process would include “an inventory of existing parking and projected needs. It will also consider alternative transportation modes and parking management solutions that promote alternative transportation choices.”
•  “Redevelop the Vergennes Falls Basin and open a Riverwalk. Vergennes will use the master plan to identify, prioritize and improve public places and infrastructure within the Otter Creek basin in order to promote private investment and public uses in this beautiful and historic, but currently underutilized, part of the city. Improvements will include completing multimodal connections, like the Riverwalk, linking the Basin to downtown Vergennes.”
The process supported by the grant is intended to create a master plan by June 2016 through what the application called “a significant public involvement process. Vergennes will rely on its planning commission and citizen task forces set up in the Community Visit to help identify its priorities. It will also really on the city’s service organizations, business community and general citizenry to develop a consensus around the city’s priorities under each subtask.”
The master plan is intended to “develop and assign specific actions and recommendations to implement” its targets, and “funding mechanisms” will be part of “the implementation plan for each priority.”
That final plan, the application stated, “will aggregate all the projects, priorities and implementation plans and recommendations into a single living document for final presentation. The document’s concise language, action oriented format and clear graphics will promote implementation projects for the city’s committees to act upon.”`

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