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Whetstone Corridor sections

The Preston Lot

One area eyed for redevelopment within five years is the town-owned Preston Parking Lot on Flat Street.

The lot serves as short-term metered parking. A footbridge across the Whetstone connects it to the Brattleboro Food Co-op property.

According to town Planning Director Rod Francis, the town has enough parking next door in the Transportation Center.

The planning consultants have suggested that the Preston Lot could better serve as a community park that doubles as a flood plain during a flood.

They proposed an amphitheater-style park to encourage public access to the brook, Francis said. The back wall of the new park — the side shared with the Co-op’s parking lot — could act as a “movie screen” for images or films, Francis added.

The design “activates the space in a very different way,” he said.

When reminded that not everyone in town likes using the Transportation Center, Francis gave a well-yes-but response.

Yes, the Transportation Center — with a reputation as a hotbed of drug use and vandalism — could itself stand to be improved, Francis said, suggesting better lighting as one measure that might feel more comfortable in the parking garage.

But, he added, if more people use it, the safer it would feel and the better its user base would treat the structure.

C.F. Church building and parking area

According to Francis, the area of Flat Street hardest hit by Irene was the vicinity of the C.F. Church building.

Again, since the building — a former toilet-seat manufacturing facility that has been adapted to professional office space — is privately owned, the design suggestions for the 1.9-acre property are in the realm of the hypothetical.

The Whetstone plan calls for, in Francis’ words, “lopping off the back of the building,” which, he said, sits dangerously close to the brook. This measure would reduce the amount of square footage soaked during a flood.

In place of the back of the building, the vision plan adds a café, a sitting area, and terracing of the riverbank.

According to Francis, the town could extend a bike and pedestrian path across the brook.

Multiple car/pedestrian and car/cyclist accidents have occurred in town within recent years. A few of these accidents have been fatal.

This measure would move people and bikes off the road and away from cars, he said.

Elm Street Parking/Frost Street/Frost Place

The second area in the vision plan starts at Elm Street and extends down the Whetstone Brook side of Frost Street and over to Frost Place.

Changes in this section consist mostly of constructing mixed-use buildings, new residential apartments, and green space. All the new designs incorporate flood mitigation features.

According to Francis, demolishing the disused industrial building next to the New England Youth Theatre is part of the plan. The building has many environmental issues and isn’t worth redeveloping, he said.

Crossing Elm Street to the Elm Street Parking Lot, Francis said the designs call for constructing mixed-use buildings that accommodate businesses and apartments.

The lot currently provides permit parking for residents of the apartments above the Co-op, as well as holders of town parking permits.

Francis said that the Brattleboro Kiln Dry property, owned by Cersosimo Lumber, is large enough that if it were to be sold, it could accommodate townhouses with views of the Whetstone.

Such new homes could house new families or young professionals, he said.

One resilient design feature in these buildings is locating parking areas in the basements, which, according to Francis, could mitigate water damage to the building’s living areas.

A footbridge is envisioned to connect Frost Street and Frost Place (also eyed as a site for new housing in the vision plan) with a small island in the center.

The island would serve as more resilient landscaping, recreational space for people, and permaculture gardens, Francis said.

The gardens weren’t in the team’s original designs, Francis noted, but were added as a result of public feedback.

Green space

The town has its eye on an approximately-12-acre field between Williams Street, the Whetstone, and Estey Street.

Currently owned by Cersosimo Lumber, the land could serve three purposes: a recreational area, a stormwater management area, and as a floodplain.

According to Francis, the company is considering selling the land. The town is partnering with the Vermont River Conservancy to buy the land through a federal Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant.

If this purchase occurs, the upper half of the field would contain landscaping to divert storm water from the neighborhood above from entering the Whetstone, Francis explained, while the lower half of the field would act as a flood plain during storms.

This double-duty aspect of the field was one of the suggestions to come from the three-day event, he said.

Initially, the field served only as a flood plain and recreation area, Francis said.

However, according to Francis, when a few residents with a passion for water stewardship saw the original plans they said the town could do better and discussed ideas with the vision team.

At a June 2 Selectboard meeting, Francis joined River Conservancy Executive Director Steve Libby to tell the board that the federal grant would cover 75 percent of the purchase price.

The Conservancy would cover the 25 percent local match required in the grant.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #362 (Wednesday, June 22, 2016). This story appeared on page A4.

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