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Vergennes dedicates Task Forces to address priorities; Resource Meeting May 21 to build action steps

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2014-04-25

On April 16, over 100 Vergennes community members gathered in a community meeting to consider the ideas that were discussed through the Vergennes Community Visit process and to set priorities for action. At the Community Meeting participants reviewed all the issues that the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) Visiting Team had heard in focus forums on the Community Visit Day held on March 18 and the school forums on March 4. At the April 16 meeting, community members discussed what was most important and most needed and voted on the priorities that they thought the community should line up to accomplish. Then, a number of participants signed up to serve on Task Forces to move these issues forward over the course of the next year.

The top 3 priorities that residents chose to focus on and build task forces around are:

  • Improve Transportation and Parking
  • Advance the Vergennes Economy & Expand the Community & Economic Development Capacity of the City
  • Redevelop the Vergennes Falls Basin & Open a Riverwalk

The next step in the process is the “Resource Meeting” set for May 21, from 6:30 to 9:00 at the Bixby Memorial Library. The Vermont Council of Rural Development will bring a new team of facilitators to help each Task Force build a concrete list of action steps and identify the resources – both human and financial – available to support their efforts. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend the formation of the task forces at the meeting on May 21st.

Paul Costello, Director of VCRD produced the event. “It’s exciting to see the energy and skills of community members lining up together to confront the challenges that the community identified as its most important priorities.”

Mayor Bill Benton serves as the overall Chairperson for the entire process. After the meeting on April 16th he reflected that “the public response to the project prioritization meeting was thrilling. We had 100 citizens sharing positive discussions on topics that are sure to increase the livability of the City of Vergennes. The community can now focus on specific work plans and resources to bring these ideas to fruition.” Mayor Benton will coordinate with Task Force chair people over the course of the next year to help groups work together effectively.

All Vergennes residents are invited to the meeting on May 21; you don’t need to have come to earlier sessions or to have signed up in advance. Costello points out that, “Everyone is an equal at every stage of this process.” Community members who would like to sign on to one of the Task Forces could do so in advance by emailing info@vtrural.org; but everyone is welcome to attend the event and join a group then.

Please mark your calendars with the date: Vergennes Resource Meeting, May 21, from 6:30 to 9:00 at the Bixby Memorial Library; please come and put yourself on the line to address Vergennes’ most important challenges!

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Here’s more about the three priorities identified for action:

Improve Transportation and Parking

A Vergennes Transportation Task Force could work to systematically improve town walkability, public safety and, by improving parking options, contribute to downtown commerce. This working group could expand parking areas and work with all downtown businesses to get all employees to park away from critical spots for customers in the downtown. The working group could advocate for crosswalk enhancements, expanded signage and lights (including for the train station when stops begin in 2016) and areas for sidewalk improvements. Some residents would like to see improvements for walkability by the bridge and access to the falls, including the idea of ultimately developing a walking bridge for viewing the falls. A task force on transportation could also promote bike lanes, trails and racks and look into opportunities for a shuttle or other public transportation in Vergennes.

Advance the Vergennes Economy & Expand the Community & Economic Development Capacity of the City

An Economic Development Task Force should be developed to take leadership in promoting businesses in Vergennes and surrounding towns, and systematically working to attract and grow new businesses that fit with the community. Residents would like to see additional businesses that expand and balance with the downtown, including a brew pub, bike and canoe rental outfitter and businesses that would attract and serve young people. An economic development plan could be produced and implemented, potentially in partnership with the town of Ferrisburgh and other surrounding towns. The city could also consider hiring an economic development director to work with this leadership team and include representatives and investment from surrounding communities.

The City of Vergennes could develop a citywide, local option one percent, sales and consumption tax to fund community and economic development in the city. Such a fund could potentially bring $130,000 annually that could be used to expand the capacity of the Vergennes Partnership, invest in community projects and recreational opportunities for youth, provide for improvements to streets, parking or infrastructure, expand amenities in the falls basin, or seed other urban renewal projects as determined by the voters and city council.

Redevelop the Vergennes Falls Basin & Open a Riverwalk

The basin and riverside are unparalleled but underutilized assets for the future of Vergennes. A Basin and Riverside Task Force could galvanize community volunteers for immediate work to improve the area and to plan longer term strategic improvements. Residents envision a small mooring field for visiting boaters, a modest expansion of the docks, improved trails, expanded seating and picnic tables, landscaping, beautification, extended WiFi, improved lighting on the east side, and better signage. Some see future steps including building a boat house with rest rooms, or even a pavilion on the west shore, and improving a gravel path or a board walk on the east side. Work should be completed to connect the rail trail to the park. With heritage trail signage and public artwork this area could be an enormous benefit to local folks and draw to tourists. Some envision a day when events, bands, food, and a new pedestrian bridge could make the basin a major attraction for the entire region.