Select Board Gets Update on Downtown Designation

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At its April 15 meeting, the select board was briefed by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD)’s Gary Holloway on the possibility of a downtown designation. Holloway is the downtown program manager of the ACCD’s Community Planning and Revitalization Division.

The designation would be an upgrade from the village center designation Hardwick has had since 2003 and East Hardwick since 2018. The benefits of the village center designation include technical assistance from the state, tax credits, and priority consideration for state grants and funds.

A downtown designation would provide additional prioritization over village designation. Holloway said additional downtown designation benefits include eligibility to apply for the annual $100,000 downtown transportation fund. The transportation fund has been mentioned in several select board meetings about the pedestrian bridge and promulgated by Shari Cornish.

The application process is more intense than that of the village center designation, Holloway said, and expectations of the town are higher. He said Hardwick meets “a lot of the checkboxes” for the designation and was “well on its way to meeting many of the requirements.”

The program requires creating or having an entity separate from the town with a sole focus on “the revitalization and preservation of the downtown area.”

Select board chair Eric Remick wanted to know if the town would it retain its village designation should it not meet the standard for a downtown designation. Holloway said yes.

Hardwick in the past had a Downtown Commission, which Remick said “fizzled.” Holloway said the previous downtown commission had been a step in the right direction. “I learned a lot about what the commitment really is and explaining to the people what that is,” Cornish said. “I think we’re in a better place.”

Planning commission chair Dave Gross said that the commission is “very much in favor of this.” Gross added the new Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Task Force could also benefit from the program.

Holloway noted that other benefits of a downtown designation include sales tax reallocation for larger, newer construction projects, Act 250 relief for mixed-income housing, caps on permitting fees, and possible traffic calming measures in the designated area.

A downtown designation could allow speed limits to be set under the state minimum of 25 m.p.h., but Holloway cautioned the benefit was not a guarantee and would require a traffic study and VTrans approval.

The state has 23 designated downtowns with which Hardwick would compete for funding, compared to 206 designated villages with which it currently competes.

Remick wondered if Hardwick would be one of the smallest designated downtowns, and Holloway said it would be, but that Wilmington (population 1,876 according to the 2010 Census) has a downtown designation.

Remick also asked for more information about the EV (electric vehicle) charging station program, which he said was “pretty closely related.” Holloway said that the state had identified six geographic areas where gaps exist in charging infrastructure and indicated that Hardwick was in one of those areas. He advised the town that if it wanted to be considered for an EV charger under the state program, it should do so quickly, “the sooner the better.”

While Cornish said she wanted to have the application in process “yesterday,” the board decided to draft the resolution and decide “what the commission needs to look like.” Remick didn’t have to ask which member would take on that responsibility, with Cornish quickly stating, “I’m on it.” An update is scheduled for the May 6 select board meeting.