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Grant allows Middlebury to create a downtown plan

MIDDLEBURY — The town of Middlebury has landed a $62,500 state grant that will allow it to launch a master planning process for its downtown.
The grant, through Vermont’s “Better Connections program,” will be added to $33,333 in Clean Water Initiative funds that Middlebury previously received for downtown stormwater planning. Together, the money will allow the town to hire consultants to lead an overall planning effort for downtown Middlebury, an area that will see construction upheaval during the next three years as workers replace the Main Street and Merchants Row rail overpasses with a concrete tunnel.
Middlebury Director of Planning and Zoning Jennifer Murray and the town planning commission have been long advocating for a master plan to chart downtown assets and logical development patterns for this key area.
“With downtown Middlebury facing a 10-week shutdown in summer 2020, this master planning project comes at a critical time for tapping into what people value about their downtown,” Murray said through an email. “The planning commission and I are thrilled to have the support of a wide variety of downtown stakeholders as the town seizes this opportunity to take the lead on engaging the whole community in charting out a roadmap for the future of downtown.”
The scope of the plan, according to Murray, will include:
•Public outreach and events aimed at creating a community vision for the downtown area.
•Developing targeted recommendations for public improvements that will support the economic vitality and social vibrancy of downtown.
•Planning and design of green stormwater infrastructure elements that can be incorporated into the downtown streetscape.
•Planning and design of bicycle and pedestrian connections within the downtown area.
•Design charrettes using public input to reimagine the Bakery Lane municipal lot and surrounding area, including Bakery Lane, the Ilsley Library, Ben Franklin property, and other downtown areas.
Plans call for Murray to send a request for proposals to prospective consultants in May, with selection of a winner by June 1.  The consultant will then begin to collect data and coordinate a series of public input events, leading up to design charrettes this fall.
Murray anticipates the Middlebury will have a downtown master plan in place by April, 2020.
“I’m really looking forward to digging into some community conversations to learn more about the history of downtown and what makes our community unique,” Murray said.
The Better Connections program is a collaboration of the Agency of Transportation and Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The funds are for communities to increase transportation options, improve water quality, support public health and strengthen economic vitality in downtowns and village centers.
Middlebury was one of three communities to receive a Better Connections grant this spring. The others were given to Fairlee, to create a Route 5 corridor plan to improve walking and biking infrastructure, and Northfield, to create a master plan to better connect the town’s villages to each other, Norwich University and their recreational centers.
“Vermonters depend upon their transportation system to provide access to work, school, shopping and other activities,”  AOT Secretary Joe Flynn said in a Tuesday press release announcing the awards. “This interagency collaboration allows communities to plan and grow in a way that integrates transportation and land-use planning with economic development decision-making.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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