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City officials and local church talk about sidewalk upgrades

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council last week agreed to pay at least a quarter of the cost of a $92,500 Park Street sidewalk project and support a grant proposal by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church — which lies between Park Street and city hall — for half of its cost.
Council members on Feb. 13 approved a motion that would loan the church the remaining 25 percent of its cost, or $23,125, from the city’s Water Tower Fund, but also agreed they would consider upping the city’s share of the project.
They agreed with two church representatives at the council’s meeting this past Tuesday that the project was a good idea, in part because the sidewalk is too narrow for sidewalk plows and creates disabled access issues for the church as well as maintenance difficulties for the city.
Those church representatives, Sarah Stroup and Sarah Cowan, also made the case that the sidewalk project is part of a larger effort to be undertaken by the church that would benefit Vergennes and its citizens.
Specifically, the church plans to create a public area on its lawn next to the sidewalk that would serve as an extension of the city green, and that work could be considered the church’s contribution to the sidewalk project.
The church and the city are jointly seeking a state transportation grant through the Designated Downtown program. Those grants fund 50 percent of projects that improve downtowns, including in Vergennes several Main Street handicap-access platforms and sidewalk upgrades. Property and/or business owners have joined the city matching 25 percent of project costs.
Stroup and Cowan asked the council to look at the up to $100,000 the church might devote to its landscaping efforts as its share of the sidewalk project.
“We are spending money on improvements that are benefitting the public,” Stroup said.
The council approved a motion with the loan provision, in part because an application the church will write with the help of the Vergennes Partnership must be completed before a March deadline.
Council members said they would in the future consider a new motion with a different cost-sharing formula once project costs were pinned down further.
In other business at a meeting in which council members backed Senior Alderman Renny Perry’s decision to remain as mayor for the next year (see story in Feb. 15 edition), the council:
•  Scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 27 the first of two required public hearings on proposed new zoning regulations. The planning commission approved them and forwarded them to the city council after a sparsely attended Feb. 5 hearing. The updated laws are designed to bring zoning into line with the updated city plan adopted last year.
Notably, the proposal calls for a solar overlay district that would cover about half the city, including most of its publicly owned land and less populated areas. Larger arrays would be limited to the overlay district, while smaller solar projects, such as roof-mounted arrays, would be encouraged in more densely populated neighborhoods and downtown.
•  Discussed the ongoing work to convert the former police station squad room in city hall to a meeting and conference room. City Manager Mel Hawley said he has been using the building’s maintenance fund to pay for some work. “I really have been spending some money,” he said. However, at some point a contractor will be needed to finish the effort, and the council will be have to decide how to fund it.
Hawley also suggested glass doors to replace the double wooden doors that separate the lobby from city offices would be more attractive and energy efficient.
•  Heard from Perry that he hoped at the Feb. 27 council meeting to start establishing the committee that will find a replacement for Hawley, who will retire at some point this year.
•  Met briefly with new Addison County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Fred Kenney, who came to the meeting to introduce himself to council members.
•  Listened to a presentation from Addison Northwest School District board member John Stroup and buildings and grounds head Ken Sullivan on the $7.6 million bond proposal that will be on the Town Meeting Day ballot. Stroup and Sullivan stressed that officials believe the bond will be revenue neutral due to its energy savings components at all four ANWSD schools and because payments of the 2000 bond to renovate and expand Vergennes Union High School will soon be completed.
As well as a variety of heating and energy upgrades at all district schools, but most notably at VUHS and Vergennes Union Elementary School, the bond will also pay for security measures and new lighting at the four schools, Stroup and Sullivan said. Extensive details on the overall plan may be found at anwsd.org, they said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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