Vergennes sidewalk to be extended to Waltham

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council on Tuesday voted, 4-3, to extend its South Maple Street sidewalk southward to the city line and beyond to a Waltham 14-unit affordable housing project proposed by the Addison County Community Trust (ACCT).
Extending the sidewalk a total of 492 feet, including about 120 feet into Waltham, would also serve a half-dozen city homes south of Thomas Circle, where the sidewalk now ends on the east side of South Maple Street.
Council members in that close vote supported a motion made by Senior Alderman Renny Perry to take an offer from ACCT to do all the prep and finish landscaping work for the sidewalk if the city did the paving.
Perry also proposed to take the estimated $2,250 cost of the needed materials for the project out of the city’s Water Tower Fund, not out of the taxpayer-funded general fund budget.
ACCT Executive Director Elise Shanbacker had earlier told city officials that funding for the $3 million project included a gravel sidewalk along the west side of South Maple Street, but not a paved sidewalk. City officials had objected because of the difficulty of plowing and maintaining an unpaved sidewalk, and Tuesday’s vote resolved the issue, with the city also agreeing to plow the Waltham stretch of sidewalk.
ACCT has Waltham approval and most of the state permits it needs to install seven modular duplexes on the 2.3-acre former Gevry Trailer Park parcel on the Vergennes-Waltham line. Shanbacker said on Wednesday ACCT has received its Act 250 permit and hopes to begin construction in late May.
A blend of affordable housing tax credits, Vermont Housing Conservation Board backing and a Community Development Block Grant will provide project funding. The duplexes will be leased to families making 60 percent or less of the county’s median income, according to ACCT.
At the council’s Tuesday meeting, the vote came after some debate. Some council members objected to the time the city’s public works department would have to spend on the sidewalk extension rather than focusing on the already identified need of taking care of existing sidewalks in need of repair.
City Manager Mel Hawley estimated the four members of the department would have to spend some or all four days on South Maple Street in order to complete the project. All work would be done in the city right-of-way, and no taking of land or easements would be necessary, he said.
Hawley said labor costs could not be separated out easily, but would just be rolled into payroll expenses. But if they were, he said, “You could double (material costs) easily if you take into account the labor.”
Hawley backed the project because the sidewalk would serve several homes now without a sidewalk as well as the 14 homes in Waltham.
“This is an area that is developed residentially and should have a sidewalk,” he said.
But Alderman Matt Chabot said “current needs” of deteriorated city sidewalks should take precedence before building one that extended into Waltham. Mayor Bill Benton cited the recent inventory of city sidewalk needs he and planning commission chairman Shannon Haggett had worked on. Alderman Jeff Fritz said he agreed city workers should focus on those priorities. 
“It is a lot of lost time,” Fritz said.
But a majority backed the work: Perry, Mark Koenig, Lynn Donnelly and Lowell Bertrand voted in favor of Perry’s motion. 
“I feel it’s a good advanced step for us,” Donnelly said.
Bertrand said the funding source was ideal.
“It’s a perfect opportunity for the Water Tower Fund money,” he said.
Council members also discussed whether to tap the Water Tower Fund for labor costs, but opted not to.
“Other projects will need Water Tower Fund money,” Donnelly said.
In other sidewalk business, the council on Tuesday heard from Perry, who is both an alderman and Vergennes Partnership president, that Vergennes had been awarded a $40,000 grant to support an $80,000 School Street sidewalk rebuild and handicap-access project in front of The Antidote and what is now The Clock Shop, which is moving to Kennedy Brothers. The Antidote plans to expand into The Clock Shop’s space.
Perry said the partnership authored the grant, which was awarded by the Vermont Downtown Program and made possible by the city’s Designated Downtown status, in turn made possible by the partnership’s existence. The city will use the Water Tower Fund to pay its $20,000 match, and building owner Hans Vorsteveld will also chip in $20,000.

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