Rockingham residents discuss 37 Main Street

Roughly 50 Rockingham residents attended the second public forum at Main Street Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 2 to discuss 37 Main Street Saxtons River. Photo provided

SAXTONS RIVER, Vt. – Roughly 50 Rockingham residents attended the second public forum at Main Street Arts on Wednesday, Nov. 2 to discuss 37 Main Street Saxtons River. The West End Main Street Revitalization Project was paid for by a Town Municipal Planning Grant, Main Street Arts (MSA), and the Village of Saxtons River. The vacant building, once a gas station, a hardware store, and a restaurant, is located between the Post Office and Main Street Arts.

Saxtons River Village Chair Amy Howlett welcomed back Robert Ryan, Department Chair of Regional Planning from the University of Massachusetts, and UMASS Landscape Architect Julia Stacker.

Howlett said, “I feel so good about this village and the energy you bring to this event.” She thanked the Planning Commission who initiated the project, the Village Trustees, the Town crew, MSA for hosting, Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox for his work on the grant, Chuck Wise, and the residents at 24 Main who donated $5,000 for the Saxtons River Fire Station, and $100 for pizza which was served prior to the meeting.

Howlett said that, when they sent a Request for Proposals to solicit consultants from Vermont, “No one would touch” the project. Rick Cowan, Rockingham Selectboard member and MSA Member At Large, contacted Windham Regional Commission Director Chris Campany who suggested Ryan. Ryan thanked the village for giving the students a chance.

Stacker presented data received from last month’s meeting where residents were asked to rate photographs from favorite to least favorite. She explained that this was a visual preference survey that “informed the aesthetic for design.” She said the data they collected demonstrated community anchor points. Apparently, focus scored highly for a commercial space and cafe, housing and senior housing, the fire station, and green space. Stacker described site conditions and said the property concerns included the road behind the building, drainage issues, and water damage to the roof and interior. Stacker suggested to residents to think about what the project might looked like now, and 20 years from now.

A resident said they were unsure of the process; the community might choose one thing, but someone could buy the building and do what they wanted. Stacker explained, “As a town, you have the power,” that is, to show public support or opposition.

Stacker shared three design options: one for housing, another for a fire station, and lastly for an outdoor space. She gave two options for each design, and residents were asked to write down what they liked or didn’t like about the design concepts.

The housing designs involved a three-story building with commercial space or more housing on the ground floor. Option two was a larger building with an outdoor plaza and seating. The fire station had two concepts; a station only, 60 x 60 with two bays, or a station with public space upstairs and parking in the rear. There were four designs for a green space; a simple plan with trees around the park in the center, a large outdoor space and separate covered pavilion, an extensive landscaped garden using native plants to address the stormwater issues, and a simple outdoor space.

UMASS student Emily Hodos acknowledged there were “strong feelings about the fire station” and asked residents to share what they loved about the concept, or if not a fan, to share something they liked about the design.

Comments on housing ranged from support for option two, to concerns about parking, another empty commercial space, and if a need for housing had been established.

Cowan said, “Gary [Fox] deserves kudos; without him, this would not have happened.”

Howlett was pleased with the turnout and said she was, “Happy to see a real mix of new and old residents in the crowd,” and looked forward to the final report in December.

The Saxtons River Village Trustees meet monthly on the first Monday at 7 p.m.

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