Joint Board discusses interim zoning bylaw for downtown businesses

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, June 30, at the Joint Board meeting, the Bellows Falls Trustees and Rockingham Selectboard discussed an interim zoning bylaw and the Bellows Falls Opera House.

Development Director Gary Fox requested approval for an interim zoning bylaw as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery plan allowing businesses to utilize sidewalks and parking spaces for outdoor dining. Fox said safety concerns had been discussed with the Fire, Police, and Highway Departments.

Concerns were centered around the safety of both pedestrians and patrons, and Village President Deborah Wright reminded them, that it is “a narrow piece of road.”

Stefan Golec suggested jersey barriers were a good investment and Fox said they found barriers that were more “aesthetically pleasing” and a third of the cost. Interim Police Chief David Bemis recommended caution signs at either end of downtown.

Chair Gaetano Putignano said he supported business, but his biggest concern was safety and liability. Fox explained that each applicant would choose the correct barrier necessary for their business and the bylaw contained a clause stating that owners and not the town were liable.

Peter Golec asked who was buying the barriers, and Fox recommended using $10,000 from development funds for signs, barriers, and lane separators. The boards approved the motion. The amendment bylaw and more information is available at www.rockinghamvt.org.

Main Street Arts Director David Stern requested that the set and rigging from the “Cabaret” show remain at the opera house until they could perform. Putignano asked for an anticipated date, and Stern said with current information that it would not be until January 2021.

The boards agreed the town’s priority for the theater was generating revenue. Stern said MSA could move the light towers easily, but if they remove the set, consisting of 1,000 hours of work “We will not perform the show.”

Opera house manager Rick Angers said he had been in conversation with a local promoter interested in using the stage one Thursday per month for musical acts “but nothing [has been] booked yet.”

Gavy Kessler, MSA co-chair, said they were willing to be flexible and wondered if bands might want to use the set as a backdrop. Both Stern and Kessler said with little advance notice the equipment could be removed; however, Kessler explained that removing the set would have a serious impact on MSA. He hoped to come back to Bellows Falls for “one more big show for you.”

The Selectboard decided to discuss the issue further at their July 7 meeting.

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