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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

Town Lands $62,500 Planning Grant

The town of Middlebury received a $62,500 grant from the state government to begin planning for the future of its downtown area. The award came through the “Better Connections” program, a partnership between the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Awards were announced in a press release on April 9. The money will go towards the hiring of consultants, data collection and community outreach to determine how to make the best use of Middlebury’s downtown. 

According to Middlebury’s successful 118 page grant application, the town plans to create a “Downtown Master Plan focused on enhancing the vitality and functional efficiency of Downtown Middlebury.” The plan will be created through a public process, seeking input from community members as well as stakeholders such as local businesses and Middlebury College.

Numerous downtown businesses have voiced support for the Downtown Master Plan, many of them providing letters of support which accompanied the grant application.

In addition to Middlebury, the towns of Fairlee and Northfield also received grants from the “Better Connections” program. “This interagency collaboration allows communities to plan and grow in a way that integrates transportation and land-use planning with economic development decision-making,” said Agency of Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn, as quoted in the April 9 press release.

 The planning project is anticipated to be completed by March of 2020 and, according to Middlebury Director of Planning and Zoning Jennifer Murray, “will be implemented over the course of many years.”

 Jennifer Murray, who is also the project manager, named many important considerations the plan will address, including downtown parking, river access, engagement with college students, bike path linkages and the future of the Bakery Lane Municipal Lot - an underutilized piece of prime real estate. The planning grant comes at a timely moment as major development is set to arrive soon to the town of Middlebury in the construction of an Amtrak station. “Amtrak is anticipated to start serving Middlebury in 2021. We have to ask, ‘how do we plan around it, how do we make sure downtown functions to make best use of it,’” said Murray.

 According to Murray, public facilitation will be a crucial element of the planning process. In addition to the local economic data that will be collected this summer, much input will be solicited from all community members and stakeholders. Meetings will take place between the planning team and key stakeholders such as Middlebury College and downtown businesses, and a public outreach strategy will be developed to get people thinking about downtown and promote input from the community.

 Murray said to stay tuned for downtown events to come later this year, especially “design charrettes” in September or October, where all stakeholders will come together in intense collaboration and consultation. The grant application holds much more in the way of community engagement including “an art contest to engage youth, wayfinding describing previous uses of Downtown structures and sidewalk art and poetry.”

 It has been a long time since large-scale planning efforts have been made in Middlebury. The most recent major planning effort took place in 2000, when a system of sidewalks and street-lamps was planned and implemented. The last truly comprehensive planning took place in the 1970s. This acquisition of this grant marks the beginning of a new, as yet unplanned era in the development of the town of Middlebury.