Village Center Master Plan rolled out for Chester board

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

Saying that “if it doesn’t work for residents, it doesn’t work,” Mark Kane of SE Group rolled out the Chester Village Center Master Plan that his company and many of those residents have worked on it since October of last year.

Mark Kane of SE Group introduces Chester’s Village Center Master Plan to the select board and a small audience. Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Kane told a special session of the Chester Select Board on Wednsday that while the town is influenced by tourism, it is not a “tourist-centric” town. Noting that local restaurant owners report that half of their business comes from locals, Kane said that the town center has great historical assets and that finding a vision that puts those assets to work for the whole community — including local businesses — was part of the goal of the exercise.

He noted that the name of the process was “Rediscovering Chester” because “we all know what Chester has, but that we needed to find a unifying vision to move forward.”

To do that, SE Group, the town and an 11-member steering committee made up of local residents and a few planning and development professionals worked through a process of collecting information working on vision and design concepts and running those by the public. The process included an eight-hour, four-part focus group in October, a community visioning workshop in December and a community design workshop in March.

The process began with an all day focus group last October

Kane said the steering committee identified a large number of improvement projects and had to narrow those down to a few that could be done in the near-term. These range from an audit of the town’s zoning regulations, which is about to go out for bid, to a promenade along Main Street near the Green and from a small “parklet” by the footbridge at the end of School Street and to a better, more attractive pedestrian connection to the Depot.

Praising Julie Hance’s grant writing ability, Kane told the meeting that having the Master Plan gives the town a greater degree of credibility with many agencies and foundations and that whole sections of the plan can be within grant applications. He also noted that the Master Plan is yet another resource for the town’s Planning Commission to use in its revision of the Town Plan.

Board chair Arne Jonynas asked how this would benefit the parts of town that are not in the village center. Kane explained that the grant that funded the work focused on the “designated village center,” but that portions of the work will inform how the vision of Chester going forward including portions of the town plan.

In response to board member Ben Whalen’s question about wayfinding signage outside the downtown, Kane said that a wayfinding plan in the works would take a “nested” approach, with welcome and general signs on the outskirts and a more intense treatment closer to the center of town.

“There’s a cost to all things,” said Kane in response to Jonynas’ question about the monetary demands of the plan, “you may just have to chip away at it, like with the signs.”

“We live in an amazing place and people’s pride in that place is evident in the work that went into this document,” said board member Lee Gustafson. “And as we roll out the plan, that pride will only increase.”

Upcoming public meetings on the Master Plan will be:

  • 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19 at American Legion Post 67, 637 Rt. 103 South and
  • 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22 at the NewsBank Conference Center, 352 Main St.

For documents used in or developed by the master planning process click here.

Thanks from Chester Rotary

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Nancy Davis of the Chester Rotary Club, thanked the board for its role in securing the help of the Current shuttle bus for the annual Fall Festival, which was held in mid-September. Davis said that the bus moved visitors between the event and the parking lot behind NewsBank as well as the rail excursions at the Depot.

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