Putney takes steps to a brighter future

Our Future Putney community brainstorming focuses on revitalizing downtown, creating a community center, and developing housing solutions

PUTNEY — Three central areas of focus are taking shape as a result of community participation in Our Future Putney, a three-part process of facilitated discussions about the future of the town.

Visioning meetings were held in November, December, and January, facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), to engage community members, brainstorm ideas for the future, and identify top priorities for Putney.

Three areas for action emerged: revitalizing the downtown, developing a community center, and developing housing solutions. Task forces have been formed, and work is now underway in each area identified.

VCRD Community Engagement & Policy Director Jenna Koloski said Putney “had incredible participation” in the process, with more than 300 community members involved.

“We've seen huge numbers of local volunteers sign up,” she said. “We've done 87 processes in the past 20 years, and this is one of the largest number of sign-ups at the end of the process.

“That moment, when volunteers sign up, that's when the community is saying, 'not only do we want to see this, we want to work on it.' That says a lot about the community's level of engagement in Putney.”

All three task forces have 50 to 90 folks signed up to help in each of the three areas identified to pursue. Members of the respective task forces are starting to take first steps, Koloski said.

“We are here as a support, but the leadership really goes to local leaders who volunteered to share these groups and those who have signed up to serve. We offer support, but this is the moment where it's kind of a handover to the community to take the steps.”

Areas of focus

The task force to revitalize the downtown is being co-chaired by Lyssa Papazian and Eric Bass.

Koloski said that group, which has met and applied for some grant money, will work with local property and business owners as well as regional and state experts on a plan to address vacancies in the downtown.

This group, she said, could plan efficient use of space for housing and retail, as well as improve walkability and pedestrian safety.

Additionally, the group could work to beautify the downtown with murals, public green space, public art, and tree and flower planting.

Regarding filling vacancies, many residents expressed a need to focus on local services such as a salon, laundromat, café, and restaurants.

Katy Emond is chairing the task force to develop a community center, and Koloski said they are “off to a good start,” noting Emond has been looking at this possibility “for a while.”

The group is now connecting with various groups in town and assessing needs.

A community center or hub could provide a space for events, connection, gathering, programming, and sharing information and resources.

Tasks include exploring the development of a new community space or reinvestment in and expansion of the current Putney community center.

In the three community meetings, residents shared particular interest in a community kitchen and indoor recreation space, as well as space for young people to gather and hold youth-focused events and programming.

The task force to develop housing solutions is being chaired by Ari Jackson with support from Marcella Eversole.

This group, said Koloski, is looking at a housing assessment with regard to need and potential solutions.

Many residents have expressed a need for more affordable and safe quality housing for seniors and people of all ages and income levels.

This group will focus on developing housing solutions that meet the needs and character of the Putney community. The group could work with regional and state partners and experts to assess current needs and explore options, including new development, cohousing models, multigenerational housing, a Community Trust, and more.

Additionally, the group could focus on a review of zoning bylaws and other regulations to improve housing development opportunities and to identify any infrastructure needs there may be to support housing solutions.

Koloski said there is no estimated overall cost yet for any part of the project.

“Each group has some work to do to get to a project that will have a price, and each will have different aspects of the work,” she said.

“Some projects won't have a price tag,” Koloski continued. “A downtown group might put on a summer concert, for instance. It's up to the groups to determine what that will look like.”

VCRD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the advancement of Vermont communities. In the past 20 years, the group has worked with more than 85 communities throughout the state, bringing residents together through a facilitated and structured process to share ideas and move toward common solutions.

The in-depth community engagement process is only brought to a town that's invited VCRD to do so, usually by the Selectboard, as was the case in Putney.

This VCRD service is free. Our Future Putney brainstorming gatherings were paid for with support from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Northern Borders Regional Commission, the Vermont Community Foundation, and VCRD supporters and donors.

“For example, Vernon wanted to build a downtown,” said VCRD Operations Director Margaret Gibson. “That's a long-range project. So you bring people to help them think long-term about how they might approach that. Or it could be a low-hanging fruit as a priority.

“And there's nothing that says the town has to spend money on anything. In Montgomery, a wastewater system for downtown was prioritized […] and they ended up getting a very large federal grant to make that happen.

“A lot of times what you find is that when towns line up for action behind an idea, resources follow,” Gibson said.

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