VERNON — With the hiring of Burlington-based planning consultants, the SE Group, Vernon moves closer to establishing what local officials describe as a “21st century New England village."
The town, with acres of farmland, a town forest, a shuttered nuclear power plant, and 2,206 residents (as of the 2010 census), has no central business and residential district.
“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."
Last year, the Commission, town officials, and the nonprofit group Friends of Vernon began working to create such a place for their town.
They chose a triangular area near the intersection of Fort Bridgman and Governor Hunt roads. It includes the Town Office building, the elementary school, the Governor Hunt House, residential properties, and some undeveloped land.
In September 2017, the town received a letter from Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Katie Buckley, notifying them they meet the statutory requirements for a village center designation.
This allows Vernon to receive tax credits for upgrades and code improvements to historic buildings, including credits for ADA modifications, technology, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, or HVAC, installations.
The designation also will give the village priority consideration for a variety of state grants, including municipal planning money.
It's already paid off.
The town recently received $20,000 in grants from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to create a conceptual master plan for the new district, which will include a detailed action plan to bring new businesses, homes, and activity to the village.
To meet the total project cost of $26,000, the Friends contributed $4,000 and the Planning Commission applied $2,000 from their budget, according to an article in the July, 2018 issue of the Vernon Community News.
With funding secured, the Planning Commission issued a request for quotes for planning consultants to help create the new Vernon village center. They received seven replies and interviewed representatives from four firms.
Langeveld, who also serves as vice-president of the Friends nonprofit, told The Commons, “Since the grant to pay for this was to the town, it's a town contract, and SE Group was selected by the Planning Commission but with participation from the Friends in the interviews."
Consultants with the SE Group have already begun working. They have started gathering baseline map data with members of the Windham Regional Commission, and they interviewed stakeholders on July 11.
The process will offer many other opportunities for residents to share their ideas on which types of development the plans should incorporate, including “charette” meetings later in the summer.