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Preserving and protecting community assets for the future

Plan NH Charrette touts "incremental change" for Hebron

Plan NH Facilitator Scott Collard presents the Design Team's findings to a large crowd of local residents at Hebron's Community Design Charrette this past weekend. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
September 28, 2011
HEBRON—It was a defining moment for the quaint, New England village community that is Hebron.

The basement community room of the Union Congregational Church on the Town Common was crowded to capacity with residents eager to hear the findings and recommendations of the Plan NH team of architects and community planners who had volunteered their time and professional expertise for one entire weekend, to work with local officials, neighbors and friends to arrive at a vision for the future of Hebron's idyllic, historic Town Center.

"We came here this weekend to figure out how we can help Hebron change to meet the needs of the future," said team member and landscape architect Scott Collard. "But all we heard from all of you since the moment we arrived has been about how much you want everything to stay exactly the way it is."

With that in mind, the team of volunteers from Plan NH set about outlining a course of action which the Town could follow to accommodate some of the growing needs for space in Town Office buildings, while carefully protecting the quintessential "something" that gives Hebron its distinct and special sense of identity and small town charm.

Collard and his colleagues emphasized that the team's task was to listen to local community members, "mirror" back to them what they had said they wanted for their Town, and make some suggestions and recommendations about ways the Town could pursue the vision that was articulated during weekend "listening" sessions. The ball is now very much back in Hebron's court.

The backdrop for the weekend's proceedings was the New Hampshire Supreme Court's decision, announced last Thursday, affirming the Grafton County Superior Court ruling in favor of the Hebron Planning Board in rejecting a proposed 20 lot residential subdivision on a steeply sloped wooded hillside off West Shore Road, immediately adjacent to the environmentally sensitive Hebron Marsh, on the North Shore of Newfound Lake.

Commonly known as the "Delaney" project, the controversial proposed development had been opposed by many members of the community as a potential stormwater and erosion threat to water quality in Newfound Lake, particularly during construction, and for being of a size and scope not in keeping with the small, rural village character of the Town of Hebron.

It was the vitality and integrity of that small town, rural village character that was the subject of much of the discussion during this past weekend's Plan NH Charrette. The team from Plan NH will prepare a formal written report and submit it to Town Officials when it is completed several months from now, but their preliminary conclusions were presented to community members on Saturday afternoon.

They outlined a phased plan, emphasizing an "incremental approach" to change over time. Specifically, the team proposed construction of a new, relatively small scale addition to the historic Hebron Academy Building that currently houses the Town Selectmen offices. The "annex" would be built to one side of the historic Hebron Academy, and would be designed to match the architectural style of the existing structure. When it is completed, functions now taking place at the Academy building could be transferred to the new space, and work on renovating the historic building could occur, with minimal disruption of services.

Building renovations at the Academy might include removing the patchwork of partitions that have been added in an ad hoc manner over the years, jacking up the structure to create a solid new foundation, and restoring the historic authenticity of the Academy building. When the renovation is compete, Town Clerk and Tax Collector functions could be moved from the "Baptist Chapel" building across the Town Common in order to consolidate all town services in one location.

Following this phase, the design team suggested that the "Baptist Chapel," which now houses the Town Clerk and Tax Collector Offices, could in turn be renovated and restored in order to create expansion space for the library, additional community meeting space, and possibly to better house or showcase the Hebron Historical Society collection.

While the proposal does not immediately address the need for community meeting space that would be large enough to accommodate Town Meeting-size gatherings, the design team felt that this need was less urgent for the Town, and could be the focus of a longer-term plan.

The team rejected the idea of re-purposing Hebron's vacant old Fire Station garage in any way due to its structural and architectural limitations. It is currently being used mostly for storage. The team recommended either demolishing it or "screening" it from view of the historic streetscape of the Hebron Common. They suggested using the adjacent site, as a potential location for an entirely new community building sometime in the future when Hebron was "ready" to take the next step.

The discussions throughout the weekend were free-flowing and frank, with more than 80 local residents participating in the process, along with planning board members and Town officials. The Plan NH Design Team identified a number of sources for helping to fund the scheme that was outlined at the charrette, and showed some examples of successful similar projects that have been recently be undertaken by other New Hampshire Towns with historic, small town centers.

Design Professionals from Plan NH who volunteered their time at the Hebron Village Charrette included: Plan NH executive Director Robin LeBlanc, Team Leader Brian Murphy from Many penny Murphy Architecture, Portsmouth, Scott Collard from Stantec Consulting in Scarborough, Maine, Gordon Cormack from Cormack Construction Management in Madison, Maggie Stier from the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance in Concord and Norman Larson from Christopher Williams Architects in Meredith.

Varney Smith
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