Focusing on future of downtown

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MANCHESTER —The town is hosting a planning charrette — an intensive, consultant-guided public planning effort — on Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 6 and 7, in which residents can contribute to the development of a master plan for downtown Manchester Center.

The planning effort is thanks to a municipal planning grant from the state. To help with the process Manchester has hired Juli Beth Hinds of Orion Planning + Design, a planning consultant firm based in Boulder, Colorado.

The multi-disciplinary firm offers a full range of planning and design services. It has extensive experience in town planning and land use regulations and codes.

On Aug. 11, Hinds met with various stakeholders in the Manchester community. She took a tour of the town and spoke with Shawn Harrington, the head of Manchester's Historical Society, to gain a better understanding of Manchester's history.

Hinds also met with the local art community, Manchester Riverwalk leaders, Marty and Irene Nadler, co-principals of MEMS; and the business community. They discussed the current conditions and Hinds learned of the community's aspirations for downtown Manchester.

The town is still working on updating the new zoning regulations. While they are not yet complete, they will be taken into consideration during the charrette.

"Hopefully we'll have a public hearing in October," said Manchester planning director, Janet Hurley regarding new the zoning regulations.

On Hinds' next visit in September she will be discussing more specific items such as MEMS current student drop-off situation, public parking and the relocation of the substation, which according to Hurley's latest third-party estimate, will cost about $3.7 million.

The charrette will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 6, with an open workshop at the Manchester Community Library. Topics to be discussed include the current environment and challenges facing Manchester, such as current retail vacancies, housing needs and costs and site and development challenges, and how they impact the future of downtown.

Participants at this workshop will be broken out into teams. Each team will be asked to think about how the future of retail and the future of work may play out in downtown Manchester, and how certain projects or changes can produce a more desirable downtown.

On Thursday, Sept. 7 at 10 a.m., there will be a walking tour of downtown, starting at Factory Point Town Green. The discussion will include transportation and parking issues.

A branding workshop will be held at 2 p.m. on Thursday at The Hampton Inn and Suites on Main Street. This will be a interactive session where you can help redefine Manchester through images and words. Space is limited for this event, so those wishing to attend should register with Hurley at 802-362-1313 (option 3) or j.hurley@manchester-vt.gov.

Thursday night from 7-9 p.m., an informal open studio session will be held at the Factory Point Bank building on Main Street. During this session Hinds and her team will focus on defining the elements and boundaries of Manchester that are appealing and offer character to the downtown area. Project ideas and branding will be incorporated as ways to create and build the character of Manchester.

The public is encouraged to attend all the events during the two-day charrette, share their ideas and ask questions on how Manchester might best move forward into the future.

More information regarding the charrette will be posted on the Manchester Facebook page as September approaches.

Anne Archer is a frequent Journal contributor.

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