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What do you want Belmont Village to look like?

May 26, 2010
BELMONT — Fourteen years after its first Plan NH Charrette, Belmont Village will be under the microscope again as the community engages in active discussions and planning for the village's future.

A charrette by definition is an intense period of design activity or, as Belmont Heritage Commission Vice Chair Linda Frawley called it, "an idea-generating session." Plan NH volunteers will come to Belmont on Friday, June 4, for a village walking tour, followed by a public listening, a community supper, and an evening listening session. They'll spend all day Saturday drawing up designs and plan summaries.

"The plan is a concept incorporating a lot of citizen ideas," Frawley said. "It's hard for some people to visualize community change. When it's drawn, it's easier to see."

By 2:30 p.m., the team, led by Michael Castagna of Castagna Consulting Group and chair of the Charrette program, will be prepared to present a final report to the public.

"Friday really is the input and idea day," Frawley said. "Saturday is a little less participatory, (but) they like having people around."

The charrette will focus on potential funding opportunities as well. The mill revitalization stemming from the 1996 charrette was financed with a Community Development Block Grant, which Frawley said was obtained with a lot of help from the Plan NH team.

"The team is architects, engineers," she said. "They'll be doing cost estimating."

The first ever Plan NH Charrette was Belmont's, and the effort focused on whether the Belmont Mill, ravaged by fire in 1992, could be restored for public use or if the demolition that was already underway should continue. The 1833 Mill was ultimately restored and now houses the Belmont Early Learning Center, the Food For Thought Café of the NH Community Technical College, the Belmont Senior Center and the Belknap Family Health Center. Christopher Williams of Meredith was the project architect at that time and hopes to participate in this year's charrette as well.

In its application for design charrette assistance, the Belmont Heritage Commission said that building on the 1996 charrette could provide an integration of new ideas, including a Tioga River walk, an outdoor pavilion and maximization of green space. The commission would also like, among other things, to touch upon future uses of local landmarks like the 100-year-old bandstand and the public library, which is currently undergoing expansion plans.

"If we don't take charge of our village now, with a comprehensive plan and going-forward strategy, our future will remain a drive-by, bedroom community with unrealized opportunities for minimally invasive development and synergy to nearby recreational/historic/tourist destinations…" the Heritage Commission wrote in the proposal.

The proposal, and now the charrette, are supported by the Board of Selection, which wrote in support of the event for the application process, as did the Planning Board and resident Wallace Rhodes.

Wallace Rhodes, chairman of the Heritage Commission and a '96 charrette participant, wrote in support of the 2010 charrette that the sites surrounding Belmont Mill could be used to enhance the whole area.

"What is now needed is a plan for utilizing these surroundings in a way that both compliments the mill and provides an outdoor community gathering place," he wrote. "I believe that there still may be several largely unrecognized and unique possibilities."

The Plan NH $5,000 program fee was funded through the Board of Selectmen, the Heritage Fund ($1,250 each) and Laconia Savings Bank. The Plan NH professionals offer their time pro bono.

Frawley said anyone with any interest is welcome to come to the listening sessions, the community supper and the Saturday session.

The Village Walking Tour will begin at 1:10 p.m. Friday, June 4, followed by the afternoon listening session at the Corner Meeting House from 2:30-4 p.m. The Community Supper will be at the Belmont Mill from 5:30-6:45 p.m., and the evening listening session will take place at Belmont Middle School from 7-8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, June 5, the Team Work Session will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with the Plan NH team using input from the listening sessions to draw up designs and plan development. The final report and presentation will take place from 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Varney Smith
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