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“Bellows Falls (in particular) possesses some unique challenges and opportunities. The development history of the Village has resulted in many small lots and properties. As a result, there are relatively few opportunities for large-scale projects within the Village; thus, it is essential to incentivize alternative types of construction here.”

Voices / Viewpoint

Thinking smaller

By turning efforts from attracting large development to encouraging more individuals and businesses to invest in low-cost and low-barrier solutions, the area should see positive economic and community development in Rockingham and Bellows Falls

Emmett Dunbar is president of the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance. Sarah Lang is organizer for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and the Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group. This piece was submitted on behalf of all three organizations.

Rockingham

When we mention “development,” many people think of large-scale projects.

Yet within Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG), the focus is on individual property owners or “micro-developers,” all pursuing their own individual tiny development interests and goals.

The incremental approach is a conceptual alternative to typical large-scale development projects and takes a small-scale approach.

Some of the questions that the working group has been addressing are:

• What is the effect on those individuals and their community?

• Are there advantages to this approach, and is it worth pursuing?

The Incremental Development Alliance (IDA) is a non-profit organization which has been working with the town of Rockingham (with support from Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and others) this year to study how the concepts of incremental development might be applied to improving this community.

IDA helped Rockingham understand how their regulations can be improved to increase the “friendliness” to small-scale developers, provided spot test examples of certain building forms that make sense in Rockingham/Bellows Falls, as well as provided an in-depth target market analysis to understand the demand the town is missing out on. You can view all recorded presentations and documents at brattleborodevelopment.com/incdev-rockingham/.

What has been learned from responding to these types of questions has encouraged further talk and solution finding.

* * *

Because large projects can run to tens of thousands of square feet, it is key to point out that IDA promotes many micro-sized “developments” at a more approachable investment to the property owners.

IDA encourages low-cost and low-barrier solutions. With investments so much lower, the number of individuals and businesses that can participate is much greater. The approach encourages unique projects, individual opportunity, and diversity and result in positive economic and community development.

Bellows Falls (in particular) possesses some unique challenges and opportunities. The development history of the Village has resulted in many small lots and properties.

As a result, there are relatively few opportunities for large-scale projects within the Village; thus, it is essential to incentivize alternative types of construction here.

As there are many small properties with unique structures full of character, the area is ripe for micro-investment, focusing on one property and/or one building at a time.

This is not without the barriers and challenges, however — some perceived, some real, but mostly real — that have limited this sort of development for many years.

* * *

Interested actors from the town have created the Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG) to move forward on the actions suggested by IDA. People who make up the group are property owners and landlords, business owners, local officials, town staff, and concerned residents.

In a way to move forward, the RIDWG has committed to taking the lessons learned from the IDA process and carry them into the future to create an evolution all residents can be proud of.

RIDWG has taken many steps since it first met in June. Some of the ideas and actions this group is focusing on:

• a carriage house survey for potential ADU opportunities

• working with the Planning Commission on zoning bylaw updates based on incremental development principles

• sharing the target market analysis with realtors and bankers

• sharing with residents educational materials and documents studied by RIDWG

• creating some educational workshops, such as a pro-forma training and a multifamily-property-homeownership class.

A core principle of incremental development is community evolution. It asks us to identify what is most valued in town and to encourage us to maintain and restore those features.

* * *

Are you ready to take action and improve the small-scale development ecosystem in Rockingham/Bellows Falls?

If you would like to get involved with the working group, if you are a property owner, if you have any questions regarding IDA, or if you have an idea for economic and community related development in Rockingham, please be in touch with RIDWG by sending an email to slang@brattleborodevelopment.com.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #634 (Wednesday, October 13, 2021). This story appeared on page C1.

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