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Salisbury seeks special recognition for its village

SALISBURY — The town of Salisbury is seeking special state recognition of its historic village, a designation that could pave the way for exclusive subsidies for sidewalk, lighting and other improvements to village properties.
At issue is the Village Center Designation Program run through the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD). The program was established to encourage communities to revitalize their traditional village centers — to maintain historic architecture and promote amenities allowing them to offer a mix of residential, religious, civic and commercial services. To be considered, the village center “must be a traditional historic center with at least one civic or commercial building,” according to the ACCD’s overview of the program.
Salisbury Selectman Tom Scanlon is spearheading the town’s quest for village center designation. His research into the program coincided with some safety concerns that a group of local residents brought to the selectboard earlier this year.
Scanlon learned the special designation for Salisbury could net resources for the safety improvements the residents were asking for — namely, a better illuminated and more pedestrian friendly village center.
“It’s a win-win for the community,” Scanlon said of the program.
Communities that secure such a village designation are eligible for such benefits as:
• Priority consideration for state grants.
• Tax credits to help communities invest in computer-related equipment and upgrades to building facades, historic structures and code improvements for such amenities as elevators and sprinkler systems.
• Priority consideration for the siting of state buildings.
Interested communities must follow a very specific and thorough application process that calls for, among other things, authorization from the town’s selectboard, input from the county’s regional planning commission, creation of a village center boundary map, color photographs showing key areas of the district, and integration of the newly designated area.
The Vermont Downtown Board reviews communities’ applications for village center designation. Communities must renew their village designation every five years.
Richard Amore, planning and project manager for the ACCD, said there are now 132 designated village centers in Vermont. East Middlebury is the only Addison County community currently enjoying that status, though Middlebury, Bristol and Vergennes all have earned “downtown designation” from the ACCD. New Haven recently lost its village designation when its town plan expired, but officials there are committed to reapplying, according to Amore.
Between 2011 and 2016, the ACCD awarded a combined total of $2.3 million in tax credits through 41 projects in designated village centers, according to Amore. Those tax credits leveraged an additional $25.8 million in private investment, he added.
Scanlon believes Salisbury is well-positioned to secure a designation for its village center. The Salisbury town plan already indicates support for such an action, though he said the document might have to be amended to include stronger language for village designation.
Meanwhile, Salisbury officials are already laying the groundwork for village improvements.
The town is seeking $8,000 through the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Advisory Committee to hire a consultant to conduct a “Salisbury Village Lighting & Sidewalk Study.” That study, according to the funding application, will “determine how best the town can make the Salisbury village area safer for pedestrians while still maintaining its character. This study will lay the foundation for the improvements necessary to meet this goal, as well as provide the town with cost estimates for planning, budgeting, and grant funding purposes.”
Pedestrian activity is steadily growing in a village marked by an “absence of sidewalks and adequate lighting along the majority of Maple Street,” according to the town’s application to the regional planning commission.
There are currently four streetlights in the village area.
“The lighting is inconsistent throughout the village, with lights being located high on utility poles and of low wattage so as not to create light pollution which is, of course, a concern,” the application states.
Scanlon said Salisbury residents will be able to provide input for the consultant’s report before it is finalized, by Sept. 29.
He cautioned, however, that the village improvements are not going to happen overnight.
“It may take six months to a year to get the village designation,” Scanlon said.
Fortunately, Scanlon has offered to do a lot of the legwork in getting the town’s village designation application completed.
“Everybody is on board,” he said of his colleagues. “I think residents are looking forward to it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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