News

Middlebury OKs new vision for downtown

“During the next decade, this town has a chance to be a fascinating place.”
— Middlebury selectboard member Nick Artim

MIDDLEURY — The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday unanimously endorsed the community’s new downtown master plan, a 138-page blueprint showing how the core village area could grow and flourish during the next decade and beyond.
“It’s exceeded my expectations,” selectboard member Lindsey Fuentes-George said of the document, which includes more than 130 recommendations on how to promote the ideals of orderly growth in housing, retail, green spaces, the local arts scene and other downtown assets.
“It’s obviously aspirational — thinking big,” she added. “It gives us a framework for talking about the town in a way we haven’t.”
Three years in the making, the downtown master plan is the product of public feedback and guidance from consultants, the Middlebury Planning Commission, and Director of Planning & Zoning Jennifer Murray. At the plan’s foundation are six guiding principles: inclusivity, with gathering places and destinations for all; housing choices; economic vibrancy; cultural vibrancy; transportation choices; and sustainability and resiliency.
Among the document’s specific recommendations:
• Consider using areas of the Marble Works complex as a potential location to add small shops and artisan/maker spaces or live-work units that will draw more customer traffic.
• Activate the town green in the winter for events and activities.
• Consider incentives for property owners, such as a revolving loan fund for upgrading existing rental housing and encouraging conversion of upper-story spaces on Main Street into apartments.
• Encourage building owners to have more conversations with the town planning staff about future aspirations for their property, and assist them in getting funding assistance and tax incentives available within the designated downtown.
• Expand and support downtown’s niche market in vintage clothing, used books, and used outdoor gear, which fits with the community’s environmental ethos. A supportive event could be a gear swap including kayaks and canoes to test in Otter Creek, display tents, and a portable rock climbing wall to test out gear.
• Develop a town-wide bicycle and pedestrian plan proposing more detailed interventions for priority intersections and corridors as well as new linkages and easement acquisition.
The complete Middlebury downtown master plan can be found at tinyurl.com/y5hxpun4.
Selectboard members on Tuesday were effusive in their praise of the document, which they OK’d without reservation.
Middlebury selectboard member Nick Artim believes the new plan has Middlebury well-positioned to capitalize on growth opportunities. He specifically cited the recent transformation of the old Stone Mill building on Mill Street into a retail/lodging/office hub as an example of a “fun” project that could be emulated to enhance the downtown.
“During the next decade, this town has a chance to be a fascinating place,” Artim said.
Selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter said the plan “Gives us a vision of what we can be,” while giving municipal officials guidance when it comes to evaluating specific development proposals that come before the town. Incorporating new ideas into downtown growth will be pivotal during the coming years, he stressed, noting the rapid advance of online shopping and other consumer trends.
“The status quo isn’t working in this current environment,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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