TOP: Milton selectmen Chris Taylor and John Cushing listen to discussion at the May 1 public hearing on changing the town core tax increment financing district spending plan.
ABOVE: Developers Michael and Bud McCormick were the only public to attend the hearing to add a traffic light to the town core TIF plan, an improvement that would green-light their plans. (Photos by Courtney Lamdin)

Milton’s application to change its tax increment financing spending plan cleared its first hurdle at Monday night’s selectboard meeting when members voted to send proposed changes to the state for review.

The 5-0 vote forwarded an edited town core TIF plan to the Vermont Economic Progress Council, an independent board that manages the TIF program.

If approved by VEPC at its May 30 meeting, the plan will incorporate a $1 million signalized intersection on Route 7, between the Milton Mobile Home Cooperative and the empty field between Sears and SNAP Fitness.

Finance director Sarah Macy said the project meets town goals to increase commercial development in the town core.

This could immediately be realized since the traffic light will allow developer Bud McCormick to build out his $17 million project slated for the 128-acre parcel.

The development review board approved Bud McCormick’s 28-lot project in 2010, but the economy slowed, and the traffic light became cost prohibitive, according to Michael McCormick, Bud’s son who’s planning the project.

He said he supports the TIF plan since it helps spur his plans and other developers’.

“This is the key to developing a parcel. Everybody requires the access,” Michael McCormick said. “It’s going to be huge and jumpstart the whole area.”

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.

Milton voters have approved using TIF funds to build water and sewer lines and to fix the dangerous intersection at Route 7, Middle Road and Railroad Street.

Realizing Milton only has until 2018 to incur debt in the town core – all TIFs have a 10-year borrowing window, and Milton’s started in 2008 – Macy sought to prioritize projects in the spending plan.

To make the traffic light fit, she cut a $1.3 million plan to build new roads between Bombardier and Centre drives and Middle Road, a project prohibited by the solar array in its path.

Monday night, acting town manager Don Turner said the town will continue talks with the McCormicks and adjacent property owners to ensure the plans benefit both the town and developers. Already, the McCormicks have agreed to deed portions of their property to build a slip lane off Route 7 with the potential of deeding some common land once their project builds out, they said.

Monday night, the McCormicks were the only members of the public at the hearing. They said the area has potential, as they’ve already spoken with a full-service restaurant and four-screen movie theater interested in the property.

“The intersection is crucial,” Michael McCormick told the board. “You’ve all been on Route 7; you know what it’s like trying to make a left turn … anywhere up and down the strip.”

He said they would start construction in concurrence with the traffic light, which the new TIF plan estimates could be built in summer 2018, town documents show.

Turner said the TIF project could be the first step in building a road parallel to Route 7, a long-sought byway to ease traffic on the main road into town.

“That’s good news for us,” selectman John Cushing said. “It’s good news for the community and certainly the people involved in this.”

Michael McCormick said if approved, the TIF change will solidify the Checkerberry zoning district as the new gateway to Milton’s business community. As such, he’s calling his project Gateway Commons.

“It would be so wonderful to go out to dinner, go to a movie, buy a pair of shoes,” he said. “It would be a place to go in Milton without driving to Williston Road. The town is just screaming out for that.”

One hiccup to the McCormicks’ intended build-out is unrelated to TIF but was also discussed Monday night. The McCormicks were approved for up to 324 residential units, which may not be allowed if draft zoning making Checkerberry commercial-only is approved.

Planning director Jake Hemmerick’s presentation on the matter was met with mixed reviews from board members and the McCormicks, who have attended numerous planning commission meetings.

The draft bylaws are up for a public hearing in June.

As far as TIF goes, VEPC will have 90 days from its May 30 meeting to issue a decision. If all goes well, the town plans a special ballot vote in November.