Rockingham hear updates on Garage Project, hosts informational meeting

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On Tuesday, Feb. 16, the Rockingham Selectboard discussed the Bellows Falls Garage Project. The Windham Windsor Housing Trust requested approval for an additional $50,000 through the Vermont Community Development Program. Executive Director Elizabeth Bridgewater said it was the last step of funding to bridge the gap of a $4 million increase to their budget.

Bridgewater explained that two issues created the funding gap: the deterioration of the concrete structure and the foundation, which was not capable of carrying the weight of the improvements.

Director of Housing Peter Paggi explained this led to a change in plans involving a new structure using woodframe construction and the removal of underground parking for increased stability to the foundation.

Bridgewater said they received “really good feedback” at several public meetings. WWHT responded to community priorities and planned to preserve the historic front facade and provide commercial space on Rockingham Street.

When questioned about parking, Paggi explained that WWHT purchased the land adjacent to the garage to offer 12 onsite spaces. He said the rest would be provided through municipal or private lots.

Barbara Ternes supported the project. “I think it’s a win-win. A decrepit building that’s being put to use and made beautiful, the tax base of the town goes up, [and] we expand the housing.”

Pat Fowler said, “On behalf of BFDDA, we appreciate the hard work that’s been going on.”

When Bonnie North asked for clarification on income restrictions, Paggi explained there were seven units restricted to 120% of the area median income, so families with income up to $79,000 and single persons up to $60,000 would be eligible. The remaining 20 were between 50-60% of the median income, which is roughly $30,000-$35,000.

Bridgewater said there would be another meeting before the Design Review Board and Town Planner Chuck Wise would post that information.

An informational meeting held Feb. 18 offered Rockingham residents the opportunity to ask questions about Town Meeting, March 1, which voters are able to attend either by Zoom or in person at the Town Hall.

For the in-person attendeees, Municipal Manager Scott Pickup explained the town will need to collect contact information including address, phone number, and email for contact-tracing and to meet Vermont state guidelines for town meetings. More informational will be available on the website.

There was a suggestion to quicken the process by having attendees write their personal information on an index card.

Pickup asked for “understanding and cooperation” for those attending. He explained that Town Hall would be limited to 75 people, which is fewer than the required 50% for fire safety occupancy.

The Town Report is available online or at Lisai’s Market and the Corner Deli, Saxtons River Market, Town Hall, Police Department, Village Square Booksellers, and People’s Bank. Pickup said the audit would be available on the website and at Town Hall as soon as possible.

Absentee ballots will be accepted at Town Hall through Monday, March 1 by 4 p.m., and by 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 2 at the polls at the Masonic Temple.

The Selectboard asks that Zoom attendees provide first and last name, raise their hand and turn the camera on to speak, all of which can be accessed by clicking participants at the base of the screen.

Putignano suggested signing on early and encouraged residents, “Get out and vote. Be polite. Be respectful.”

Town Meeting is Monday, March 1 at 7 p.m. at the Bellows Falls Opera House and voting by Australian ballot is at the Masonic Temple Tuesday, March 2. Polls open 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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