VERNON—Vernon has no village.
In spite of that, the town received Village Center Designation from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
According to the Sept. 26 letter issued by Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Katie Buckley, “Vernon’s village center, as submitted in your application, met the statutory requirements for village center designation.”
“A lot of places have historic downtown villages,” said Martin Langeveld, member of the Vernon Planning and Economic Development Commission, “but it’s not common to build a village from the ground up.”
But that’s what the Commission, the nonprofit group Friends of Vernon, and other town officials intend to do with the designated area, which includes the Town Office building, the elementary school, the Governor Hunt House, residential properties, and some undeveloped land.
The designation process grew out of a 2016 visioning effort led by the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Vernon residents identified priority projects for the future of the town, including the creation of a village center and establishing a store, café, and gathering place.
The task forces that separately formed to pursue these two goals recently merged and formed a nonprofit organization, the Friends of Vernon Center, Inc. Arthur Miller is chair and Langeveld is vice president.
The Friends worked through the town and its Planning and Economic Development commission to apply for the designation.
“We would like to move ahead with some kind of development. We want to have a good, inclusive planning process,” including public hearings and committee meetings, Langeveld said.
Receiving Village Center Designation will bring “financial incentives, training, and technical assistance needed to attract new business and vitality to Vermont’s smaller communities,” says the ACCD’s press release. Once a village receives designation, it can receive tax credits for upgrades and code improvements to historic buildings, including credits for ADA modifications and technology and HVAC installations.
The designation also will give the village priority consideration for a variety of state grants, including municipal planning money and Vermont Community Development Program funding.
Langeveld said Vernon applied for a $20,000 ACCD planning grant. The ACCD will notify the town in December if they will get the grant. If they do, “it’s the next major step for almost anything else to happen,” including getting other grant funding, he added.
That money, plus a $4,000 match from the Friends of Vernon and a $2,000 match from the Planning and Economic Development commission budget, “will help engage planning groups and companies to come up with a conceptual master plan,” Langeveld said.
’What should be where?’
Part of this process will include planning meetings and public hearings. “We want to get people’s input on what they’d like to see,” such as mixed-use, residential, industrial, or commercial areas, Langeveld said. “What should be where?”
Once the Planning and Economic Development commission has gathered this data, “we can look for ways to make things happen in stages,” Langeveld said.
Langeveld said the commission and Friends of Vernon are greatly inspired by what Friends of Algiers achieved with the Algiers section of Guilford, including the renovations to the Guilford Country Store. “They are very much a model for us,” he said.
But, unlike Algiers, Vernon has no identifiable town center.
“You take all the pieces of a typical town,” Langeveld said, such as a church, town hall, community center, or area of commerce or industry, “and you scatter them all over the map. That’s Vernon.”
Langeveld said the reason for this may be Vernon’s strong agrarian history. “There was never really a set of factories” in Vernon, he said. “Before VY, the biggest thing was the dam, and that was in the early 1900s. Most villages have a center, a green. But in Vernon, where is the center? There was no industry to attract settlement around it. Just the farms and their needs.”
In considering how to develop Vernon’s village center, Langeveld said, “the trick is to not have it be an obviously planned place. You want it to be organic, to have the feel of always having been there.”