Chester wins one of three state grants for downtown planning

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The towns of Chester and Springfield are two of the three municipalities chosen from 10 applicants statewide to receive Strong Communities, Better Connections Grants given by a partnership of the state agencies of Transportation and of Commerce and Community Development.

The funds are meant to help municipalities align land-use planning and community revitalization efforts with transportation investments.

Village Center MapWith its $63,000 grant, the Town of Chester will develop an action plan for the designated Village Center and create strategies for streetscape enhancements, economic development and village revitalization.

The Town of Springfield will use $67,500 (plus its $7,500 match) to create a downtown streetscape plan for Main Street and identify strategies to connect to the river and improve parking and bike/pedestrian improvements in downtown. The third grant for $45,000 (plus a $5,000 local match) will go to Montpelier.

“Transportation investments in our downtowns and villages can provide a platform for investment from the private sector that leverages that public investment to grow our economy,” said state Transportation Secretary Chris Cole in announcing the grants last Thursday. “ This grant program recognizes that state agencies working together can have a greater impact to the communities we serve.”

According to Julie Hance, who wrote Chester’s application on behalf of town government, the program funded $63,000 with the cash match of $7,000 budgeted in the town’s grant fund.

“When grant documents are signed in the next couple of weeks we can get to work,” Hance said.

The first step will be to hire a consultant, a process that will be done by competitive bid. According to Hance, two planners with the state agencies that made the grant and Jason Rasmussen, of the Southern Windsor County Regional Development, will help Hance and Chester Town Manager David Pisha to craft a specific request for proposals. They will also recommend regional publications that will yield the largest selection of qualified bidders and then assist the town with reviewing and selecting a consultant.

The town has envisioned a master planning process that could bring together residents to decide what kind of downtown people want and how to achieve that result. A stakeholders committee made up of members of the public along with Pisha, Hance, Rasmussen and state planners Richard Amore and Jackie Cassino will serve as a core group to engage the public in gathering information and interacting with the planning consultant.

The grant’s timetable projects that the consultant should be hired by May 27 with final results of the work finished by the end of 2017.

Among the set of skills and experience that Pisha and Hance are looking for is planning experience in small village settings and experience working in Vermont, a deep understanding of marketing, strong website experience and an understanding of the value of architectural and historical assets.

“We want the consultant to show us the palette of what’s possible,” said Hance.

Bob Flint of Springfield Regional Development Corp. said he was “happy that two out of three of the grants came to towns in this region.”

“Chester has the opportunity to tie its efforts with beautification, developing trails and strategic planning together,” said Flint. Chester, he said, “is best positioned to have a classic Vermont downtown center – jewel –  to nurture and enhance and to leverage those enhancements in transportation for pedestrians and vehicles.”

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  1. Lew Watters says:

    Perfect timing for meaningful planning for the future of our great little town.