Middlebury board OKs downtown parks design
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously endorsed re-design concepts for Triangle Park and a future “Lazarus Park” off of Printer’s Alley. Both plans include landscaping, paths and gathering spots for the public, which will continue to have a voice in refining the proposals before they are put into motion as part of the upcoming replacement of the Merchants Row and Main Street Bridges.
Board members, members of the public and representatives of VHB Engineers spent 70 minutes discussing the park plans, which stirred considerable public interest at three prior meetings. Stakeholders — including parents, area store owners, residents and town officials — have offered diverse opinions on how the downtown parks could be made more inviting for special events, children’s play and passive enjoyment.
Officials ultimately endorsed a parks concept prepared by VHB that shows, among other things:
• A “hard surface” plaza in Triangle Park at the intersection of Main Street and Merchants Row. That plaza — centered by the mainstay, historic fountain — is fronted by six large canopy style trees. Historic, large ashlar stone blocks (like the ones that make up the retaining wall next to the railroad through downtown now) are being repurposed for seating and tree protection. The park will be endowed with large, flat lawn areas for casual seating and flexible uses. Smaller flowering trees will be introduced, though they will preserve views of nearby St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. The park pathway will connect to existing paths within the town green.
• The future Lazarus Park — at the site of the former Lazarus Department Store annex adjacent to Printer’s Alley — is to be bisected by a simple, arcing, handicapped-accessible path providing a direct connection from Main Street to Marble Works complex and Riverside Park. Lazarus Park would include an ashlar block seating wall and a circular hardscape seating area at the bottom of the slope (fronting the Marble Works). A Main Street crosswalk will lead from the Lazarus Park path entrance/exit to the town green pathway system.
Among those participating in Tuesday’s discussion was Hannah Sessions, a coordinator of the Middlebury Farmers’ Market. The market is currently held on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Middlebury Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 7823 headquarters at 530 Exchange St. While the VFW parking lot offers an expansive hard surface for the many vendors to exhibit their wares, market owners have long dreamt of bringing the service back to the downtown.
Sessions said she believed the revised plans would make Triangle Park and the town green conducive to hosting the market when the work is done.
“I love the changes you guys have made, and thanks for listening to the input,” Sessions told the board.
She added the proposed “mountable” curbing on Merchants Row and ample space for temporary stands would make the park more accessible for farmers’ market vendors and for participants in the annual “Foodaroo” event.
“There’s a super opportunity there for this community,” Sessions said. “It would be so exciting for so many of us to move back into town… We bring a lot of customers into the downtown area.”
“This park is an opportunity for a lot of different organizations in town,” Sessions said.
Some who spoke up at Tuesday’s meeting issued some words of caution about the park plans.
Selectboard member Heather Seeley and former Middlebury Planning Commission member Victoria DeWind noted public works officials will need to develop plans for clearing ice and snow from the parks’ hard surfaces during the winter, as use of those spaces will likely occur year-round.
And DeWind warned that placing ashlar blocks seating beneath trees could send visitors to their washing machines.
“I don’t know if you’ve been through the park recently, but the amount of bird droppings, all over, would make (seats under shade trees) unusable,” DeWind said. “I appreciate the desire to reuse the ashlar blocks, but I think flexibility in seating here is really important in being able to move it according to whatever activities are planned; I’d hate to see you locked into these big heavy blocks.”
Addison County Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Adam Lougee agreed the latest plan has some shortcomings. Among them, he said, is the lack of a pullout for the Addison County Transit Resources buses. Lougee summarized his concerns about the parks planning process in a Dec. 7 letter he sent to Vermont Transportation Secretary Joseph Flynn.
“(VTrans officials) have listened respectfully and have made small changes that will be easy to implement and that nibble at the edge of Middlebury’s vision,” Lougee wrote. “However, ‘Sorry Sir, Sorry Ma’am, we have a tunnel to build’ is the distinct feeling they have conveyed at the public hearings.”
The Middlebury Planning Commission and Design Advisory Committee also provided input into the park plans. Planning officials praised the plans’ use of trees, and encouraged placement of additional of planters. Members also urged the central hardscape areas and curbing be made of natural stone material, rather than concrete.
Local officials anticipate the vast majority of the park improvements will be paid with state and federal funds.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter thanked stakeholders for their input in a process that will unfortunately not make everyone completely happy.
“If we took every idea everybody wanted, (the parks) would look pretty interesting,” Carpenter said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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