Town green advances

LONDONDERRY - The two FEMA buyout properties may soon start to look like a town green.

The properties, located near the intersection of Routes 100 and 11 were damaged during Hurricane Irene. With money from FEMA, the buildings will be torn down.

The questions are when and how.

Last November, there was a public meeting to discuss the outcome of a workshop that gave initial options for the properties and at March Town Meeting Day, residents voted yes to an article on the warning to support fixing up these properties.

Sharon Crossman, chairwoman of the planning commission, said during a meeting on May 7 that it was time to cut and paste ideas together, to form a more cohesive plan.

"We have a task force that is a citizen group. . . tasked with coming up with a draft plan . . . for the select board to consider," Crossman said.

At a previous meeting, the group decided to leave the dam on the river out of the conversation, due to emotional differences of opinion, she said. Instead, the group acknowledged that at some point the dam will be removed, but not as a part of this project. Previously, the group came up with about 10 ideas of features or amenities they would like to see on the town green, which included everything from a safe cross walk, handicap accessibility, terraced steps and a public restroom.

"The town green concept when it was mentioned during the workshop. . . when we got back together recently, the whole idea of the park connoted different things," Crossman said. "We felt there had to be some way to assert we're really talking about something more passive, not an 'impactive' park, not a water park."

To help move the discussion along, Emmet Dunbar of the planning commission suggested that the groups write the different options up on the board and vote as to which amenities the group felt were most important to have in the first phase of development.

"Crosswalk, town green entrance, parking, landscaping and river access are pretty high," Dunbar said. "But the restroom, terraced steps, gazebo are all coming later."

The group decided to create an A and B list, to present the town, as a way to show all their ideas and how they could be implemented in different phases.

They agreed that if a restroom could be built in the buy-out property, that it should be a part of the first phase. There was also discussion about the terraced steps, which may need to be built at the beginning of the project, instead of at a later date.

Continuing the exercise of building the concept of the town green, Crossman cut out different features and taped them to a drawn out design of the properties, to show where a crosswalk or the entrance might show up in a final design. This will give the group a visual when presenting to others, like the community or the select board.

Josh Wengerd, a member of the planning commission, wanted to know if a designer or engineer could be brought in to move the process along.

On May 22, the group met again to finalize a plan to present in front of the select board on June 2. Two issues brought up in the previous meeting, a wall present on the property on the north side of the road and a cross walk, were given to Kevin Beattie, the town administrator, and Crossman to research. Beattie said the wall on the property is a flood wall.

"It turns out that wall was put in by VTrans [Vermont Agency of Transportation], at the time the bridge was built and that there was actually a condemnation order in the land order that VTRANS took an easement there to install and maintain the wall, and so FEMA says the wall needs to come down and VTrans says the wall needs to stay up," he said.

A site visit is planned with FEMA, VTRANS, the town, as well as the Agency of Natural Resources to try and figure out what to do with the wall.

As for the crosswalk, Crossman talked to VTRANS and they will be letting the town know where a safer way to cross the street will be located.

Kim Smith, an assistant planner with the Windham Regional Commission, created a drawing of the space and presented it to the group. There were two drawings. One featured a path that curved along the whole space, a bathroom, and where an amphitheater could be located. Another, featured a smaller path on one side of the property. Both showed where native plants could be planted and a rain garden, to help with flood mitigation.

Members of the parks board, who maintain William's Park, next to one of the buy out properties, expressed their concern with the plans. While the parks committee members present said they support the project, Colleen Pingree Gometz pointed out that they have been assuming the properties are one, when they are really a buy out property and an already established park. Specifically, she wanted to know who would be caring for the additional property.

"Upkeep, maintenance, whatever we do that has to be in there because the taxpayers are going to be the ones that are asked to pay for it," she said. Beattie said they would most likely officially add the buy out property to William's park. The group decided to pare down their design to present to the select board again, eliminating all features from the buy out property next to the park, expect for landscaping. The new design will feature a path, plantings and an entrance to the park. They decided they can keep their ideas for other features as backups, that could be phased in at a later date. The group will present their design in front of the select board on June 2.


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