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Friends of Vernon Center embark on village planning effort

2018-01-31

During the "Town Visit" visioning program carried out in Vernon during 2016 by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, Vernon residents, in a collaborative process, settled on a number of initiatives they would like to see carried out to move the town forward economically and socially.

These initiatives include the development of a village center — the town does not currently have a traditional village cluster of homes and businesses — as well as the development of a store, café and gathering place. The area between and surrounding the Vernon Elementary School and the Town Office Building was selected as the preferred location for a village center to be developed.

The task forces that were formed to pursue the village center and store/café merged early in 2017, and created a non-profit organization, the Friends of Vernon Center, Inc., for the purpose of pursuing both goals.

The Friends are chaired by Arthur Miller, co-owner of the Miller Farm. Officers are Martin Langeveld, Vice President; Tom Rappaport, Secretary; and Kathy Korb, Treasurer. In addition the following residents serve on the organization's board: Jessica Butterfield, John Butterfield, Jean Carr, Peggy Farabaugh, Heather Frost, Jeff Hardy, and Kerry Mulverhill.

The Friends worked with the Vernon Planning Commission and the Selectboard to apply to the Vermont Downtown Development Board for designation of the area in question as an official Vermont Village Center. That designation also entailed an amendment to the Town Plan.

The Downtown Board voted for the designation at its meeting on September 25 in Montpelier. (There are about 140 designated village centers in the state.) The designated area includes the Town Office Building, the Elementary School, the Governor Hunt House, a number of residential properties and some undeveloped land.

Village Center Designation brings a number of benefits including financial incentives, training and technical assistance to help attract new businesses and vitality; qualifies towns and property owners to apply for historic tax credits to help finance development projects; and permits the town to apply for grants for purposes such as master planning.

The designation does not create zoning or other restrictions on property owners.

Following the designation, the Friends again worked with the Town to apply for a 2018 Vermont Municipal Planning Grant from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development for the purpose of master planning for the village area. Town Administrator Michelle Pong authored and submitted the grant application in September, and in December the town was notified by Katie Buckley, Commissioner of the department, that the grant had been approved.

In congratulating the town for receiving the grant, Buckley (who lives in Guilford) said: “Vernon is undergoing a transformation unlike any other Vermont town. From my perch as neighbor and state official, it is so exciting to watch your local leadership and broader community embrace change with a clear vision and positive approach.”

The town, in partnership with the Friends of Vernon Center, will use the grant to prepare a conceptual master plan, including a detailed action plan to bring new businesses, homes and vitality to the village. The process will incorporate multiple opportunities for residents to offer their ideas on the types of development to be pursued.

The state’s grant is for $20,000, which will be matched with $4,000 from the Friends of Vernon Center, and $2,000 from the budget of the town’s Planning and Economic Development Commission, for a total project cost of $26,000.

In January, the Town and the Friends began the process of finding and engaging planning consultants. It is hoped that the conceptual plan can be completed in mid-2018.

Meanwhile, the Friends have also worked on options for the creation of a combined café, store and gathering place (similar to the Guilford Country Store) and hopes to make progress in that area during 2018.

Meetings of the Friends board of directors are held quarterly and are open to the public — watch for announcements in the events listings on the VernonVermont.org website and Vernon Community News email newsletter. The Friends also have a website: www.VernonCenter.org, and a Facebook page