ALL ABOUT TOWN: The Shires debate should stick to facts
The Select Board has now established a schedule to hear and decide the grant award acceptance for the Shires Housing project. The board will hold a special meeting on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m. at the Fire facility, third-floor meeting room, and then, at its regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 22, it will vote to accept or reject the grant award.
The discussions and hearings surrounding this grant and application to build have been tinged with fear, anger, and some pretty disturbing comments. Several letters to the editor have contained outright bigoted statements, painting with a very broad brush those who may live in these units as those "who don't work or won't work."
I can understand those who own condominiums in Appleridge being concerned with the change to rental units and seeking to preserve the quality and care of the development. I can understand the neighbors' concerns for traffic, aesthetics, density -- although that's being reduced -- in the proposed Shires project; screening, impact on schools -- although the interim superintendent has now stated there will be no impact; open space and landscaping. All of these are legitimate concerns and must be addressed by the Shires group.
It is time that we, the community, bring this back to a civil discourse. Allegations of bribery, real estate fraud, drug dealing, and other claims are only meant to enflame the dialogue. We all know each other. Shires has been in town a long time and done some pretty nice work.
Shires manages its units well. A recent letter to the editor written by a retired individual living on a fixed income noted feeling welcome and safe in a Shires project. Let's recognize that Shires Housing is not the root cause of all the socioeconomic ills Bennington and all communities face.
Let's remember where we've come from. Many of us would have qualified for these units in the past. Many of the Shires residents are longtime Bennington residents. It's time we rediscover what makes this community such a nice place to live and work.
At its first August meeting, the board voted to allow the staff to continue the design process for a bike/pedestrian path, running from Aldi across Route 7 along Kocher Drive to East Road. This will make that area much safer for those who bike or walk in that corridor.
On the development front, Cumberland Farms is planning to construct a new facility at the corner of Orchard Road and Northside Drive. Redstone Development is moving ever closer to construction of the new Walmart and the first roundabout on Northside Drive.
Stevens Motors is relocating to the vacant building and site of the former Demarco's Sporting Goods. There is serious talk of a new development in the downtown. LaFlamme's Furniture is now open in the former Alcaro's building. Town staff are working with another business to find a site for another new development.
Of course, these discussions are confidential until the developers release the information. It appears that the next few months and next construction season will be pretty exciting.
The water tank project should be out to bid soon. This project will start this fall. It includes a winter shutdown. It should conclude by late summer, early fall of 2015.
The final Northside Drive water main replacement project is now underway. It should not impede traffic, but please use care when driving through the project worksite. It will be completed before Thanksgiving. Many of you will notice the new sidewalk and curb work progressing on Safford and Bradford streets. Our paving work will begin very soon. Once again, please exercise care when entering a work zone.
Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 802-442-1037 or stop in at the T own Offices on South Street.
Stuart Hurd is Bennington's Town Manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.
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