City council eyes sidewalk for Waltham housing

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council last week continued to discuss what could be a 350-foot sidewalk extension on the west side of South Maple Street that would reach about 50 feet into Waltham and serve a renovated Gevry Trailer Park as well as a handful of city homes.
The Addison County Community Trust (ACCT) has Waltham’s approval and most of the state permits it needs to install seven modular duplexes on that 2.3-acre parcel that will supply 14 units of affordable housing, but ACCT Director Elise Shanbacker said the trust is still awaiting its Act 250 permit.
That permit for what will be a roughly $3 million project could be awarded by mid- to late April, Shanbacker said in an email to the Independent last week. A blend of affordable housing tax credits, Vermont Housing Conservation Board backing and a Community Development Block Grant is expected to provide the project funding.
The duplexes would be leased to families making 60 percent or less of the county’s median income, according to ACCT, which already owns and operates many trailer parks in Addison County, including in Vergennes, Middlebury, Bristol, Starksboro and Ferrisburgh. 
What the project lacks, said Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley, is pedestrian linkage to neighboring Vergennes and the funding to provide it. ACCT has in hand a $5,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors toward a roughly $11,000 crushed-stone sidewalk, but Hawley said the city will not install sidewalks that cannot be plowed.
“How do we put a sidewalk plow on crushed stone?” Hawley said. “City sidewalks are made of concrete.”
In an email to Hawley, Shanbacker acknowledged the city’s position and asked for its support for the project:
“ACCT also understands that Vergennes would not permit a gravel sidewalk, and ACCT does not have funds to build a paved sidewalk. ACCT is asking the City Council to consider an in-kind contribution to the project of paving the gravel sidewalk to city standards … Without additional funds or the City being willing to take on the paving project, ACCT would not be able to put in a sidewalk that meets City standards and therefore no sidewalk would be built.”
Hawley said the cost of the project would depend greatly on whether the city contracted with a third party or whether its own public works department could do the work. Vergennes recently received a $274,500 grant for a $305,000 sidewalk extension project on North Main Street of about 800 feet.
Council members in the past have said they would not object to city employees plowing another 50 feet of sidewalk, as long as the town of Waltham provided enough public property on which to turn the plow around.
Hawley said he could see recommending to council members they consider some backing for the sidewalk extension, given that it would serve three Vergennes homes on the west side of South Maple Street.
“I would support some percentage of the project,” he said.
The council will await more information about costs before coming to any conclusion, Hawley said.       
“The city council did not make a decision,” he said. “They want more details.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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