by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – On March 20, the Vermont Agency of Commerce, along with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, awarded a $67,500 Better Connections Grant to the town of Hardwick. The town will provide an additional $7,500 in matching funds. This grant will support a comprehensive planning effort to address the needs of the East Hardwick community. Once completed, this Better Connections Master Plan will allow East Hardwick projects to access grants from the Vermont Downtown Transportation Fund which are available to Designated Village Centers only after the master plan is completed.
The Vermont Better Connections Program provides technical assistance and funds to local communities to help them plan for growth. It funds planning efforts to increase multi-modal transportation options and to improve land use, water quality, public health and economic vitality in Vermont communities. The grant program is very competitive with only three Vermont locations chosen for awards this year.
On March 31, a WCAX news story stated that significant money is being spent to make Vermont towns more livable and walkable. The broadcast announced that Brattleboro, East Hardwick, and West Windsor were just awarded nearly $260,000 as part of the Better Connections Grant Program.
During 2022, the town of Hardwick took the first steps in the master planning process for East Hardwick Village by completing three planning documents. Funded by the Northern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), a scoping study in which the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization (EHNO) worked with the Wall Consulting Group, NVDA and VTrans to produce a plan for a trailhead on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail was conducted. This trailhead will be near the location of the old East Hardwick Depot on Stevens Lane and will provide additional parking near Church Street.
In May of 2022, the town’s Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Task Force, working on behalf of the Planning Commission, conducted an AARP Walkability Audit in East Hardwick, which identified numerous safety concerns including deteriorated sidewalks, a lack of bike lanes, and a general absence of traffic calming elements. In the third document, Local Motion worked with the Hardwick Planning Commission and the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization to produce a Walk and Bike Safety Improvements Study.
Tracy Martin, the Community Development Coordinator for the Town of Hardwick, commented “I’m sure that one of the reasons Hardwick was chosen for this grant is due to the work that was already in place. This work shows a commitment by all of the stake holders.” According to the application, this recent work demonstrated the village’s success with community-driven planning initiatives.
The Better Connections planning project will engage the local community as well as regional and state partners to develop a master plan for East Hardwick Village. The Village Master Plan Development Project will include a steering committee led by members of the community who represent diverse interests, such as the Hardwick town manager, and representatives from the Hardwick Select Board, Hardwick Planning Commission, East Hardwick Fire District, East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization, Caledonia Grange No. 9, the First Congregational Church, the Hazen Union student body, business owners and members from state agencies such as the Northern Vermont Development Association, VTrans, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail Council and Lamoille Housing Partnership.
The EHNO and other community volunteers have already identified several priorities for village revitalization including improving the existing water system and planning for its continued maintenance, addressing safety concerns for pedestrians and cyclists, rebuilding sidewalks, creating or improving public gathering places both indoors and outdoors, improving connectivity to the rail trail, adding public parking spaces, improving streetscapes and encouraging additional public and private investment in the community.
As stated in the application for funding, “While the Town and community groups within East Hardwick are already hard at work on previously identified priorities, most of these efforts are led by volunteers whose time and creative energy are spread thin. The opportunity to work with a professional consultant with community and economic development expertise will be a game changer for East Hardwick. A dedicated consultant team that can assist the community to pool energy and creative resources will fill a much needed gap, and a Village Master Plan will lay out clear and achievable action steps and identify specific resources to inform/guide future public and private investments with community support.”
The Better Connections application was submitted by Tracy Martin in the newly created Community Development Coordinator position working under the town manager’s office. The Northern Vermont Development Agency (NVDA) assisted the town to complete this 22-page electronic application. According to Martin, “Annie McLean at NVDA guided us through the process and wrote the application. She is terrific!”
Better Connections: The Rest of the Story
by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist
EAST HARDWICK – News about the Vermont Better Connections Grant just keeps getting better. In addition to the $67,500 grant that was awarded to develop the collaborative East Hardwick Village Master Plan, $30,000 was awarded to the town of Hardwick for a clean water project work plan, schedule, and budget.
The application for Clean Water Funds was an optional add-on to the Better Connections Grant Application. Monies for the Clean Water Funds Project will come through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and will not require matching funds from the town.
According to the grant application, the project will integrate green stormwater infrastructure into the Better Connections work plan. Developing stormwater infrastructure is consistent with the town’s water quality policy (in the Hardwick Municipal Plan) which states “stormwater technologies or techniques should be used to prevent runoff from directly entering any surface water.”
The Clean Water Funds Project will become part of Hardwick’s Stormwater Management Plan, specifically for East Hardwick Village. This plan is intended to lead directly to project implementation, as it should create 90% implementable designs. Completion of the management plan will make the town eligible for future funding through a Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Block Grant.
The Clean Water Fund Project will focus on the Main Street Bridge in East Hardwick and the intersection of Main Street, Brickhouse Road, and East Church Street. As noted in the Hardwick Stormwater Master Plan, when the Lamoille River comes into East Hardwick Village, there are a number of stormwater inputs, including runoff from Main Street. The assessment also notes the condition of sidewalks and the catch basins or drainage inlets.
The Clean Water Fund Project includes Overlook Park. This is a town designated parking area at the bottom of Brick House Road that overlooks the Mill Falls on the Lamoille River. The property is owned by the East Hardwick Fire District and is being improved by the East Hardwick Neighborhood Organization with the assistance of the town’s road crew. The master plan will consider projects that can stabilize the river bank below Overlook Park, mitigate storm water from Brick House Road and potentially provide public access to the river. Overlook Park will receive a Vermont Historic Marker this summer and has been identified as a location for interpretive signage that highlights the riparian ecosystem.
The town is currently exploring a separate $200,000 VTrans Structures Grant to replace East Hardwick’s Main St. Bridge. The Clean Water Fund Project will be designed to integrate with the bridge replacement project and ensure the new bridge design and installation consider water quality and erosion concerns.