Planning Commission sends downtown plan to Select Board

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MANCHESTER — The planning commission's public hearing on a downtown plan for Manchester drew no attendees on Monday night.

The plan, building off the Northshire Economic Development Strategy (NEDS) study conducted in 2016, the revision of the town plan passed in 2017, and the overhaul of the land use ordinance passed this past spring, is intended to promote a vibrant, pedestrian downtown which features a mix of commercial and residential uses.

From here, the plan now heads to the Select Board for a pair of public hearings before it is formally adopted .

The plan, and its supporting implementation matrix, list six broad goal areas:

- Housing: Increase quantity and variety in and close to downtown.

- Economic responsiveness: Repurpose unused retail space, recruiting and fostering new or missing uses.

- Connections: Build a complete network of pathways and streets, supported but not dominated by parking, linking downtown with schools, the Battenkill and surrounding neighborhoods and countryside.

- Identity: Establish downtown as a vibrant, pedestrian oriented environment with day and night vitality

- Anchors and gateways: Establish welcoming points of entry and improve appearance and function of key sites.

- Partnerships: Eastablish a downtown organization to be responsible for seeking state Downtown Designation and implementing reinvestment agreement with Vermont Downtown Program.

The implementation matrix includes short, medium and long-term actions for achieving the goals. For example, in the section on mobility and parking investments, one short-term action is securing grant funding for a downtown parking inventory and utilization analysis, while completing the circulation and field improvements at MEMS is listed as a medium-term goal.

In other business, the board voted to authorize planning and zoning director Janet Hurley to submit a grant application to the state for a mixed use feasibility study.

The initiative, which was approved by the Select Board last week, seeks funding for a market study of the potential of commercial-residential development, including which parcels would be best suited for such development and how they would result in rental rates attractive to young professionals — so-called workforce housing.

While Manchester has set the table for such development with its rewrite of the land use ordinance, it is seeking guidance in making that happen. The study would tell the town and potential developers what it would take for a project to "pencil out" with competitive rents that would allow young professionals to move here, and identify parcels where such a development would work.

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