On November 14, Milton residents have an opportunity to chart the town’s economic development potential, increase safety and improve aesthetics in the town core.
At least that’s how town manager Don Turner sees the upcoming Nov. 14 special ballot. The two-article item asks voters to consider $3.1 million in tax increment financing dollars to complete three major projects along the Route 7 corridor.
The first is $2 million for the “hourglass” intersection, a redesign of the Route 7-Middle Road-Railroad Street junction; $100,000 for sidewalks, streetlights and trees; and $1 million for the so-called “southern gateway” signalized intersection and connecting road.
The town received state approval for the latter project in June after former finance director and TIF aficionado Sarah Macy realized other projects in the original financing plan weren’t viable.
TIF is an economic development tool that allows municipalities to retain town and school tax dollars to bond for public infrastructure projects that will stimulate growth. The debt is paid back with the increased property tax value created by said growth and does not raise taxes.
Milton has two TIFs: One covering the Catamount Industrial Park and Husky campus and another encompassing the town core. TIFs only allow a 10-year borrowing period, which expires in March 2018 for the town core TIF.
As such, this is the last TIF vote Milton will consider, making the projects all the more vital, Turner said, calling the opportunity one “we’re never going to get again.”
The intersection fix has essentially been in the making for more than two decades. The selectboard officially endorsed the hourglass design – which will construct two new roads connecting Middle Road and Railroad Street to Route 7 – back in late 2012.
Milton voters already allocated $800,000 in TIF funds for the project that year. The additional $2 million will help acquire rights-of-way to build roads that will bisect properties currently housing the North Country Saloon on the southern end and Transparent Computers and Dance Works Academy on the north.
The northern leg will connect with the shopping plaza entrance, which will shift slightly south to create a signalized intersection with crosswalks, another long-held goal to improve pedestrian safety. A town green is envisioned for the hourglass’ center.
“If [the ballot] doesn’t pass, then we don’t have enough money to make this happen,” Turner said. “It’s very, very important, and that’s why I’ve turned my focus totally to getting this done.”
The southern gateway project, sited across from the Milton Mobile Home Cooperative, will add another four-way signalized intersection and build the start of a future “east-west road.” That road would eventually connect Racine Road to Route 7 at Landfill Road, serving as a parallel to Route 7.
The town’s ideal plan is extending this road all the way to Bombardier Road, but it hasn’t yet gotten right-of-way permissions from all landowners.
Turner said the town worked with developers Bud and Mike McCormick, who are planning a $17 million project for the 128-acre parcel between SNAP Fitness and the McCormicks’ now-vacant Sears store.
If the town builds the intersection – which the McCormicks have said is cost-prohibitive to them – the town expects the developers to make the east-west road possible.
“I am not aware of any arrangements like this in the past in Milton where the town has invested in infrastructure like this, but we are in unique times,” Turner said. “It’s a very unique opportunity for the town and the developers. We’re not really working together – we’re working toward the same goal but independently.”
Mike McCormick said abutting property owners are on the same page about the road. He thinks the signalized intersection is vital to build out his and their parcels, calling it a “top priority.”
Approved in 2010, the mixed-use McCormick project is 28 lots with commercial fronting Route 7 and residential toward the back.
“We’ve been negotiating with a full-service restaurant and expect to get a commitment from them as soon as we have a traffic light in place or under construction,” McCormick said. “That will certainly fuel the development of the area.”
Turner said the McCormicks will provide a needed boost to Milton’s town core, increasing the grand list and lowering the tax rate. Plus, motorists will have an alternate route in case of an accident or closure on Route 7, both scenarios exacerbated with having just one thoroughfare through town.
The last $100,000 for streetscaping will pair with voter-approved $2.4 million in TIF monies for the “Milton 4D” project to improve aesthetics along Route 7 from Milton Diner to the dam. The town also has $850,000 in state grants to fill in sidewalk gaps along the state highway.
If approved at the polls, the projects will change Milton “for the next 50 years,” Turner said.
To spread the word, Turner has spoken to community organizations, created informational flyers and plans a Facebook educational campaign.
There’s also a pre-vote meeting planned for Monday, Nov. 13 at the municipal building, starting at 6 p.m. Early and absentee voting are now available, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. November 14.
Turner encouraged people to come out and vote.
“We have the biggest opportunity to really transform and move Milton forward with this vote,” he said. “We’re going to have all these resources to do everything people have been talking about for decades.”