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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Town Seeks Public Input on Green Spaces Ahead of Overhauls

MIDDLEBURY — Residents of Middlebury and the area will have a final chance to voice their opinions on the proposed overhauls of the Triangle Park section of the Village Green and Printer’s Alley Park. On Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. the Town of Middlebury and the Vermont Agency of Transportation will hold a public input meeting to review the conceptual landscape designs. The meeting will take place at the Town Offices at 77 Main St.

The transformation of the town’s green spaces is part of the larger effort to revamp the downtown area with the Middlebury Rail & Bridge project. The Planning Committee (PC) and the Design Advisory Council (DAC) will meet with Landscape Architect Mark Hamelin of VHB/Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., which offers integrated services in sustainable design, energy and site engineering, at noon today — Thursday, Nov. 29 — to discuss the two proposed concepts.

The two concepts, mapped out by Hamelin, offer varying amounts of paved and green space and attempt to reflect community feedback from previous meetings. Such feedback, according to Jim Gish, Middlebury’s community liaison for the downtown Rail & Bridge Project, demonstrated a desire to incorporate changes to Triangle Park into a push for increased economic development. 

“Two or three themes have emerged,” Gish said, regarding the community input. “I think the most interesting one is that there’s been a lot of focus on rather than restoring Triangle Park to more of a traditional New England town green, thinking of how it might drive economic development by becoming more of a plaza where public events could be held.”

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Discussions of changes to the green started three years ago, according to Brian Carpenter, Chair of the Middlebury Selectboard. A public hearing held last June kicked the project into gear with some initial designs by a local landscape architect. Since then, the project has been through multiple iterations and changes, finding its way to Hamelin who, according to Gish, has previously designed sites such as the Burlington Waterfront and the Waterbury State Office Complex. 

“What’s interesting is that that has changed a lot in those three years as people think more about it,” said Carpenter. “Now that we’ve decided we’re going to have Merchant’s Row be one-way, that changes the way people feel about Triangle Park and what it could potentially bring to the downtown.”

Many Middlebury-area residents have expressed interest in seeing a space where people can congregate that can be used for events such as the Farmer’s Market and even protests, explained Carpenter. Ultimately, he said, people are thinking about a central space that will attract people into the downtown.

“I think the general feedback that I have received as Selectboard chair,” said Carpenter, “is that we’re generally heading in the right direction but still wanting some additional change.”

 The discussions of the proposed designs have taken on new meaning in light of a changing and modernizing consumer market. The Selectboard, Carpenter added, is looking to “townships that are more progressive” for inspiration on keeping downtown areas “vibrant and full of life.”

Following the public input meeting on Dec. 5, the VHB will review and update the designs further based on feedback in preparation for the Selectboard’s final decision. 

“We are providing plenty of opportunity for input,” said Carpenter. “I’m confident that we’re going to come up with something that we’re all pretty happy with.”

The public input meeting is open to Middlebury-area residents as well as Middlebury College students, Gish emphasized.

 “I think it would be fabulous if Middlebury College students came down, even if it’s just to listen to how these processes work,” he said, adding that students could bring a new and different perspective. “It’s your home for four years too. And plus, you guys have good ideas.” 

If all goes as planned, the Selectboard hopes to wrap up the design process and make their final decision on Tuesday, Dec. 11.