Planapalooza seeking input for newest town planning efforts

By BENJY RENTON

COURTESY PHOTO
The Town of Middlebury encourages all students to attend the events as part of Planapalooza this weekend. Community input will be essential to planning the future of downtown Middlebury, according to town officials.

What do we want in downtown Middlebury? How can we make it a place where everyone feels comfortable? These are questions that the Town of Middlebury’s Planapalooza aims to answer. Planapalooza is a part of the Middlebury Downtown Master Planning project, an initiative led by the Middlebury Planning Commission and Town Planner.  The lead consultant and facilitator for the project is Town Planning and Urban Design Collaborative (TPUDC), a firm that works nationwide and is based in Franklin, Tenn. 

From Nov. 7–11, community members will have the opportunity to participate in multiple events, designed to solicit input for the master plan for the downtown area. These four days can be considered what has been called a charrette process — an intense period of design or planning activity. “We’re trying to focus people’s attention on visual renderings and maps to get them thinking about how their vision translates to paper,” said Middlebury’s Director of Planning and Zoning Jennifer Murray. “What they start with the first night should look substantially different to the last night if everyone is participating.”

When the urban design consultants are in Middlebury, they will be holding a variety of hands-on events to involve community members in the process. These include three presentations: an opening talk on Thursday, Nov. 7 from 6–8 p.m. in the town offices; a public pin-up and review presentation on Saturday, Nov. 9 from 5:30–7 p.m. at the Congregational Church in town; and a closing presentation on Monday, Nov. 11 from 6–7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theater. In addition to these main events, there will be three focus group meetings on stormwater, multimodal transportation and sustainability scattered throughout the weekend. Community members can also attend open studio hours throughout the four-day period in the Bundle space on 51 Main St. All events are open to the public.

Compared to some other towns in Vermont, Murray said Middlebury has a healthy urban growth. “Our efforts are mostly focused on infill development — creating bridgework in the town and filling in individual spaces with additional potential,” she said.

At the end of the four days, all stakeholder groups will help produce recommendations for the town’s master plan. Visual renderings and an illustrative master plan map will form the basis for attracting developers to downtown Middlebury.

Murray emphasized the fluid nature of the planning process and the need for community input.

“We don’t want to look like Winooski. We want to look like Middlebury,” she said. “But what does that mean to people?”

Murray also drew attention to the role college students play in the community, as the tagline of the project is “making a place for everyone.” “This is your chance to make a difference,” she said.

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