February 12, 2014LITTLETON — Two river district warrant articles, which seek a total of $80,000 in town funds, are set for the March ballot. The initiatives are the early fruit of deliberations that the River District Re-Development Commission had over the last year.
John Hennessey, chairman of the commission, defended the two articles at the town's deliberative session last week. The first (Article 11) would raise $30,000 for design work to improve district roads. A primary interest of this article is to start the process for a safer intersection at Saranac and Meadow streets, on the district's western end.
Article 12 would permit $50,000 in engineering work to improve town infrastructure in the area between Main Street and the river.
Hennessey said the commission has two primary goals. The district's infrastructure needs upgrading, he said. Additionally, improved services will revitalize the river district to enhance town economic development goals.
A better overall plan for the district provides a chance to make the area more pedestrian friendly, the chairman suggested. Currently, Hennessey said, bad traffic flow and disjointed streets create a "dangerous and congested area" below Main Street.
Hennessey added, "The town has a history of success" in economic development. Expressing optimism about the district's future, Hennessey said the two articles offer "a real head start" on a part of town that could become vibrant.
Taxpayer funding is not the district's sole source of revitalization funds, Hennessey noted. The commission has garnered $30,000 in grants, as well as $28,000 in private donations. Interest from the state's Congressional delegation is another reason the river district's rebirth seems like a good idea, Hennessey said.
Selectman Marghie Seymour, a member of the commission, provided further defense of the warrant articles. She said Littleton's strong business climate "gives us a certain strength that a lot of other communities don't have." Continued growth for Littleton, she continued, depends on "our proactive approach to development."
Last year's emergency infrastructure repairs along Mill Street were another reason for Seymour's defense of the articles. Property owners Ron Murro and Jere Eames alerted the town to the runoff problems that required the repairs. Seymour said the work, which cost over $30,000, occurred "because of infrastructure that was not up to date."
Bryan Hadlock was the first resident to offer comments on the articles at the deliberative session. He likes the idea of an improved river district. However, he wondered about the tax impact. "Let the commercial properties start paying," Hadlock suggested.
Rudy Gelsi suggested now "was not the time" for the articles. He was not sure of the long-term benefit that the articles would offer.
Bruce Hadlock did not agree with Hennessey that the town's successful history of economic development made the articles money well spent. "We knew where we were going" during the plans to develop the Industrial Park, Hadlock said. He did not see the same level of vision with the river district.
"I don't think you know where you're going," Hadlock concluded. He suggested the commission has put "the cart before the horse."
Sylvia Smith also had concerns. "Why are we doing this now?" she wondered. Dann echoed Smith's concerns. He said the plan could have greater support, including his own, if taxpayers could be treated as shareholders, able to garner profit from the river district enterprise.
Brien Ward countered the dissenting views. He said the Industrial Park began as a $15,000 warrant article in 1973. Thanks to continued efforts in economic revitalization in Littleton, Ward said the town "tripled our tax base" since 1995.
Ward said the town should "do the same thing for the river area." The Ammonoosuc was the reason Littleton was founded in the 18th Century. He called the river district "our first Industrial Park."
Greg Allaire, recently named chairman of the Littleton Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Ward. Allaire declared that Littleton has great momentum. Through expansion of the river district, the town had "opportunity to gain more revenue," he concluded.