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Vision of Belmont's future mapped out during intensive charrette

Miroslava Teneva, a member of the PlanNH team visiting Belmont last weekend, sketches new ideas for Sargent Park entrances, use and access, based on comments from several listening sessions. The group heard from almost 100 local and regional participants throughout the weekend. Courtesy photo. (click for larger version)
June 09, 2010
BELMONT — Members of PlanNH spent last weekend in Belmont on a whirlwind trip, touring, listening and designing before leaving the town with several recommendations for the Village District's future, including the relocation of the Gale School and a riverfront pavilion.

The two-day intensive planning session, called a "charrette," ended with the far-ranging "road map" for the Village District. The expert team, all donating their professional services, included architects, landscape designers, engineers and community planning and project specialists from New Hampshire and Maine. The effort was the second for Belmont; the 1996 effort resulted in the salvaging and development of the historic Belmont Mill.

The program opened with a Corner Meeting House briefing on community issues and introductions of the PlanNH team and charrette process. Board of Selectmen Chair Ron Cormier told PlanNH that Belmont has reached a population of over 7,000 and has some "growing pains." He said last year's Village Revitalization Committee made some good strides, and it was time to take another step.

"This will be a big picture and big plan," he said. "We'll look at it carefully along with the community, and chip away at the best possibilities. An overall plan is crucial and will go a long way for us here in Belmont and in the region."

Members of the Heritage and Conservation Commissions, Planning Board and staff from many municipal departments were among the participants, along with Main Street and other residents and regional and state leaders from N.H. Department of Transportation, Belknap County Economic Development Council, Lakes Region Planning Council and Lakes Region Community College, among others.

Town officials and other attendees described aspects of the village, both positive and negative, as they saw them, and Selectman David Morse reported the Revitalization Committee findings. Morse said the group hoped to see the construction of a pavilion for new events like farmers markets and flea markets, as well as traditions like Old Home Day.

Conservation Commission chairman Ken Knowlton shared a vision for a walking trail along the Tioga River and the rebuilding of a one-time footbridge beside the mill that would allow direct access to a river walk and more parking on the opposite side.

Before setting out on a walking tour of the village, PlanNH Chairman Michael Castagna said his team would take a look at what is offered already and what could be added or rebuilt to enhance the downtown area of Belmont.

"We'll look at this from 35,000 feet and give you a road map of how to put the pieces together, a long-range package of the possibilities that you can work on," said Castagna.

Comments at community listening sessions and submitted through emails were all listed on a large easel pad for the team to consider during the charrette. Among them were ideas for more reasons to draw people to the village, including low-impact businesses and social events. A middle school student pointed out there was nothing much for people her age to do in the town and an older gentleman agreed that young people should be kept in mind for any future plans. A community center, where people could gather for special occasions and teens could have a place for group activities, was a popular idea with the crowd.

"I'd like to see a riverfront café," said one resident, and others echoed the idea of having more things focused on the riverfront, now mostly hidden by shrubbery within the village district.

Many also wanted to see sidewalks along Depot Street so residents could walk safely into the village for activities. Sargent Park was another focus of attention. Greater accessibility and increased activities in the park were among the suggestions made.

Brad Corriveau presented members of the PlanNH team with a printout of ideas from a study committee on the future of the Gale School, built in 1894.

"Time is running out for that building. It's beginning to suffer from age. My dream would be to see it moved to a new location, perhaps beside the Mill or where the former bank building is now," Corriveau said.

His committee suggested revamping the structure and creating town office space or even senior housing.

All the notes from Friday's sessions were translated into ideas for a vision of the town, presented Saturday afternoon after a full day of planning, designing and figuring cost estimates.

Recommendations called for the historic Gale School, now behind the middle school, to be relocated to the downtown area for municipal offices at an estimated cost of $375,000. The team also proposed a new pavilion on the Tioga River, priced at $175,000, with walking paths branching off along the waterway. Other features included a $1.8 million dollar community center, a new 15,000 square foot police station on Route 106 at a cost of $3.2 million, and roadwork to improve the Main and Depot Street intersection. The road projects were estimated at $625,000 and $2.6 million respectively.

Castagna urged the town to be persistent in looking for grants and programs to help fund the work, reminding them it will not come overnight.

"The hardest thing is to keep the momentum going in a project of this size," he said.

Heritage Commission Vice Chairman Linda Frawley said the recommendations will be published in the next six to eight weeks in a fully illustrated booklet. In that report PlanNH will provide the town with concepts, detailed drawings and major funding opportunities. Castagna will return to Belmont to make a formal presentation of the charrette for selectmen and the public later this summer, with the materials also available online for those who cannot attend.

Garnett Hill
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Martin Lord Osman
Garnett Hill
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