How does a town create a sense of place? That’s one major question Milton seeks to answer through a new initiative to define its downtown through sidewalk and streetscaping improvements.
The town just launched the Milton 4D Project: Defining Downtown from the Diner to the Dam, which aims to create a sense of place with trees, wayfinding signs, lighting and more in the public right-of-way.
But residents need to weigh in, Town Manager Donna Barlow Casey said. Through a series of meetings and other outreach opportunities, the town wants to collect as much input as possible on how people want their town to look.
“We have the opportunity to really invent ourselves and how other people see us,” Barlow Casey said. “That can be very exciting and could even be a model for many communities who struggle with this same challenge.”
The town contracted with Middlebury-based LandWorks, a firm of planners and design architects, to facilitate the process. Company principal David Raphael said Milton’s 2.7-mile stretch of Route 7 from Milton Diner to the Clark Falls Dam needs a boost.
“How do you create some connectivity and some sense it’s all part of a greater whole?” he asked. “There is the need to inject some additional life and energy and design into that corridor to make it feel and function like the Main Street of the community.”
The project will identify key components to be funded with $2.4 million bond of tax increment financing dollars that voters approved on Town Meeting Day in March, Barlow Casey said.
At this point, it’s unclear how far those monies will stretch. One lamppost could cost up to $7,000, she said.
If all this sounds familiar, it should. The town held a similar event in February 2012, where town officials recorded feedback on signage, crosswalks and more.
The Improvements Committee published a report last October that listed these items as ways to better Milton’s image. And the regional planning commission is working on a Route 7 corridor study that addresses this topic.
That’s just recent history. The town conducted a planning charrette back in 2006 – almost 10 years ago now – that discussed similar issues.
That’s why the town is emphasizing Milton 4D is not just another visioning study.
“This is the point where we get from what could be to what will be,” said Erik Wells, newly appointed director of administration and community services, adding that LandWorks will incorporate all previous studies. “It’s Milton’s time.”
And the time really is now. Milton only has until May 2018 to incur TIF debt, which means projects must be planned and bonds must be approved beforehand. TIF is one of the state’s only economic development programs, and it has a deadline, Barlow Casey said.
“If we miss this window, we lose a lot of what’s already been done,” she said. “We’re sort of standing on that cusp of being able to do this and to achieve a critical mass and accomplish a lot.”
LandWorks’ Raphael has seen investments in other communities pay off. His firm helped Vergennes rewrite its municipal plan, and since then, new businesses have attracted a younger clientele. White River Junction saw the same benefits, he said.
“Folks who are thinking of locating a business in a locale or in a downtown want to know the community is invested in the downtown, that corridor, that place,” Raphael said.
So how does it all happen?
First, Milton and LandWorks will host an interactive feedback session on October 24, where small groups will walk the corridor, noting problem areas and opportunities. LandWorks will analyze that input for another meeting on November 18.
In the meantime, two informational kiosks will pop up along the corridor this month. They’ll include chalkboards for pedestrians to record ideas. Milton will also promote the #M4D hashtag on social media, Wells said.
While some might chalk up these improvements as “window dressings,” Raphael said streetscaping and sidewalks “create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”
Barlow Casey agreed: “What we’re talking about is an identity for the community,” she said. “It’s what we’re hoping Milton will be.”
The full vision may not be realized for a decade, but now is the time to start, officials said.
“I would be delighted if we had so many emails, so many comments and people talking about this that we were overwhelmed,” Barlow Casey said. “That would be the best possible outcome.”
Want to shape Milton’s future? Join the Milton 4D project’s interactive process.
Wednesday 10/14: Informational Meeting
Join the town for a review of the Improvements Committee report, which will serve as a basis for Milton’s new conceptual design.
6 p.m., Municipal building community room
Saturday, 10/24: Feedback Session
LandWorks will lead an interactive discussion, including a tour of the corridor.
9 a.m. to noon, Municipal building community room
Wednesday 11/18: First Draft
LandWorks will present a conceptual design based on October feedback. More input will inform the final design.
6 to 8 p.m., Municipal building community room
Winter 2016: Final Design